The science of life is undergoing changes so jolting that even its top researchers are feeling something akin to shell-shock. Just four years after scientists finished mapping the human genome - the full sequence of 3 billion DNA "letters" folded within every cell - they find themselves confronted by a biological jungle deeper, denser, and more difficult to penetrate than anyone imagined.
In any event, lots of basic biological beliefs are going out the window these days as new discoveries come so rapid-fire that the effect is almost more disorienting than illuminating.
The discoveries have one common theme: Cellular processes long assumed to be "genetic" appear quite often to be the result of highly complex interactions occurring in regions of DNA void of genes. This is roughly akin to Wall Street waking to the realization that money doesn't make the world go 'round, after all.
"It's a radical concept, one that a lot of scientists aren't very happy with," said Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. "But the scientific community is going to have to rethink what genes are, what they do and don't do, and how the genome's functional elements have evolved.
"I think we're all pretty awed by what we're seeing," Collins said. "It amounts to a scientific revolution."
"The picture that's emerging" of how living cells actually operate and evolve "is so immensely more complicated than anyone imagined, it's almost depressing," Rigoutsos said.
HT: Rob Crowther, EN&V