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A riveting account of an exciting field of research,
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This review is from: The Myth of Junk DNA (Paperback)
This book effectively argues against the notion that DNA is largely made up of junk left behind by millions of years of evolutionary experimentation. It goes into recent research (right up to 2011) which has uncovered wonderfully complex functionality in stretches of DNA which for years had been assumed to be nothing more than evolutionary remnants. The situation is not unlike that of the supposed human vestigial organs. The coccyx was assumed to be the remains of a monkey's tail; but it is now known to provide an essential anchor point for our posture muscles as well as having a role in defecation. The developing human embryo appears to go through an evolutionary 'fish stage' when 'gills' appear, but these 'gills' are now known to be pharyngeal pouches which develop into the thymus gland, the parathyroids, and the middle ear canals. Of the 180 human organs once listed as vestigial, only a handful of dubious examples remain.
And so to the book; one of the examples Jonathan Wells gives is the so-called Endogenous Retroviruses (ERVs). ERVs look like the remains of a pre-human viral infection, an impression strengthed by comparison of the DNA of different species. But recent research has shown some of these supposed lengths of junk DNA to have a highly complex physiological role, for example in placenta formation. As the author reports, new discoveries of function in 'functionless' DNA appear every week. The tide is going against junk DNA. It looks like it's going the way of vestigial organs!