They published the results of a pilot study back in July 2007 (ENCODE, 2007) in which they analyzed a specific 1% of the human genome. That result suggested that much of our genome is transcribed at some time or another or in some cell type (pervasive transcription). The consortium also showed that the genome was littered with DNA binding sites that were frequently occupied by DNA binding proteins.
Genomes & Junk DNAAll of this suggested strongly that most of our genome has a function. However, in the actual paper the group was careful not to draw any firm conclusions.
... we also uncovered some surprises that challenge the current dogma on biological mechanisms. The generation of numerous intercalated transcripts spanning the majority of the genome has been repeatedly suggested, but this phenomenon has been met with mixed opinions about the biological importance of these transcripts. Our analyses of numerous orthogonal data sets firmly establish the presence of these transcripts, and thus the simple view of the genome as having a defined set of isolated loci transcribed independently does not seem to be accurate. Perhaps the genome encodes a network of transcripts, many of which are linked to protein-coding transcripts and to the majority of which we cannot (yet) assign a biological role. Our perspective of transcription and genes may have to evolve and also poses some interesting mechanistic questions. For example, how are splicing signals coordinated and used when there are so many overlapping primary transcripts? Similarly, to what extent does this reflect neutral turnover of reproducible transcripts with no biological role?This didn't stop the hype. The results were widely interpreted as proof that most of our genome has a function and the result featured prominently in the creationist literature.
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