Junk Worth Keeping

Is it time to retire provocative descriptors such as "junk DNA"?

Richard Gallagher
Jul 1, 2007

June 30, 1972, was a high point for the lexicon of biology. That day, Susumu Ohno coined (or at least publicly introduced) the term "junk DNA." In a talk titled "So Much 'Junk DNA' in our Genome," Ohno argued that the frequency of deleterious mutations restricts the number of serviceable genes to around 105 and that the great bulk of our DNA is merely the debris of failed duplication. "The earth is full of extinct species," he said. "Is it a wonder that our genome, too, is filled with the remains of extinct genes?"1

The phenomenon of junk DNA has unsettled the research community over the years, and it isn't a surprise that it originated with Ohno. He was a mischievous and brilliant thinker who made numerous contributions to genetics and evolutionary biology, and he was a wonderful writer.2

Still, not everyone agrees with that term's importance. Andras...


1. B. Kuska, "Should scientists scrap the notion of junk DNA?" J Nat Cancer Inst, 90:1032?3, 1998. 2. http://content.karger.com/ProdukteDB/produkte.asp?Aktion=Ausgabe&Ausgabe=225343&ProduktNr=224037 3. M.C. Nisbet, C. Mooney, "Framing science," Science, 316:56, 2007. 4. http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2007/04/dont_be_a_dodo_bloggers_weigh.php 5. www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/04/uncommon_despai.html

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