Inside the Mysterious Dark Matter of the Human Genome
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When scientists sequenced the human genome a decade ago, it was somewhat like looking at a blueprint in a foreign language - everything was marked in its proper location, but no one could tell what it all meant. Only about 1 percent of our genome codes for proteins that actually do anything, so the rest of our DNA has been like biology's dark matter, acting in mysterious ways. Now, after years of monumental effort, scientists think they have some answers.
A five-year project called ENCODE, for "Encyclopedia of DNA Elements," found that about 80 percent of the human genome is biologically active, influencing how nearby genes are expressed and in which types of cells. It's not junk DNA, which was previously thought - instead, these non-coding regions of DNA could have major bearing on diseases and genetic mutations, researchers say.
The project will rewrite the textbooks, turning the architectural blueprint of the human genome into a control schematic and instruction manual that explains how genes turn on and off. These rules dictate anything from embryonic development to the process of aging.