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A new technique to get down to the molecular basis


Extra DNA is kept like junk, not thrown out like garbage
Sydney Brenner Scientist
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A lot of it was conditioned by one experimental result found in drosophila about bands and interbands, and it looked like one band contained one gene. This is a great mapping experiment. We now know what bands and interbands are, because the idea was the band or the interband was the control region. That would have made it enormous. So that drosophila then had as many genes as it had bands and interbands, and that would have only been a few thousand, and that looked quite interesting possibility. Now we know what they represent is groups of genes, perhaps only one, but certainly groups of genes that are turned on and groups that are turned off in the salivary gland. But Francis did write a paper on the structure of the eukaryotic chromosome in 1971, which embodied this deductive theory of... of this, and I think it was completely wrong and, and not the right thing to do. I mean, it was an interesting paper, but it, it rested on such shaky assumptions it could be easily demolished, like versatility of regulation which needn't be too versatile if you have 'don't care' conditions. These discussions, as you may imagine, went on quite a lot. I wrote a paper myself trying to... which essentially just accounted for it as junk. That is not liked, is still not liked very much, because I think people feel very uncomfortable with the idea that a lot of their DNA is of no value. Not to them and not to anybody. And I think we have to get beyond the sort of psychology to really appreciate what are the forces in evolution that say junk can be kept or not kept as the case is made. I mean, my only contribution to the junk subject is to differentiate, to make a strong differentiation between junk and garbage. Because very clear is junk is the rubbish you keep and garbage is the rubbish you throw out. So extra DNA by definition cannot be garbage, but only junk, because if it were garbage it wouldn't be there. And I think that's essentially the answer, because junk is just garbage that there's no need to throw out.

South African Sydney Brenner (1927-2019) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. His joint discovery of messenger RNA, and, in more recent years, his development of gene cloning, sequencing and manipulation techniques along with his work for the Human Genome Project have led to his standing as a pioneer in the field of genetics and molecular biology.

Listeners: Lewis Wolpert

Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London. His research interests are in the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He was originally trained as a civil engineer in South Africa but changed to research in cell biology at King's College, London in 1955. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and awarded the CBE in 1990. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He has presented science on both radio and TV and for five years was Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.



Listen to Lewis Wolpert at Web of Stories



Duration: 2 minutes, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: April-May 1994

Date story went live: 29 September 2010