Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sorting through the junk (DNA)

A large proportion of the human genome is far from being understood. Some of this is casually referred to as "junk DNA." Scientists are beginning to sort through this stuff. Glenn Reynolds links to this:

8 Percent of Human Genome Was Inserted By Virus, and May Cause Schizophrenia

The rise of psychopharmacology has led doctors to not only treat mental illnesses like regular diseases, but think of them as such as well. Turns out, schizophrenia may be more than just a disease in concept, but actually a virus itself. According to new research, as much as eight percent of the human genome consists of viruses that inserted themselves into our DNA for replication, including the gene that causes schizophrenia.…

Science has long known that some components of our DNA are relics of viruses that entered into our genome in some past infection. However, no one ever thought that virus remnants formed this much of our genome, or that one of the viruses might lead to disease, let alone something as complex as mental illness.
Sorting through the junk will pay off, as we learn to distinguish between trash and treasures. Next step, still a long way off: the clean-up.

Update: More on the schizophrenia virus: "Our DNA carries dozens of copies of Perron’s virus, now called human endogenous retrovirus W, or HERV-W, at specific addresses on chromosomes 6 and 7."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent! New supper-time topic :D