Friday, September 7, 2012

Prowling the Junkyards





Newsflash: junk isn't always crap. I'm not surprised. Neither is anyone who watches Abandoned or Storage Wars.

But the realization has caused a bit of an upset in genetics labs lately, with breaking news that all the confusing, nonsensical-seeming jumble of "junk" DNA we learned about in high school, well-- that "junk." isn't crap either. 

We've dug in and discovered a bit more. Looks like it's all about switches. To me, one of the greatest discoveries was the influence some switches apparently exert due to their proximity in the 3-D DNA coil. Previously, this influence was tough to detect, because scientists were examining the switches "out of context" - i.e., straightened out, but now we're beginning to take helical modeling structure into account.

The research could pave a pathway to new drug development and clinical procedures: it seems bright and shiny enough, virtually a yellow brick road to health. It also seems daunting. The more we learn about DNA, the more complex a set of systems we seem to realize is at play, and these realizations have, overall, been tough to transform to regular clinical practice. 

As a public health student, I'm anxious to find out what possible public health applications ongoing DNA discoveries will yield. "Junk" DNA is poised to highlight more about which aspects of our health we can control and which will stay out of reach. 

I can't wait to see what else the "junkyard" holds.