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How Scientific Myths Perish

New Scientist reporter Hannah Krakauer deserves a complimentary copy of Jonathan Wells's Myth of Junk DNA. In the context of describing some research published in Nature ("A map of the cis-regulatory sequences in the mouse genome"), she observes:

Some junk is worth keeping. Non-coding, or junk, mouse DNA contains vast amounts of information vital to gene function -- and those regulatory functions take up much more space on the genome than the all-important coding segments.

Less than 2 per cent of DNA actually codes for proteins, so the double helix is responsible for a great deal more than making proteins. Some segments are designated enhancers and promoters. These bind transcription factors that allow coding DNA to be read and translated into proteins. Other regions, called insulators, prevent neighbouring genes from being read together accidentally.

To work out which sections of DNA might contain these segments - collectively known as cis-regulatory elements -- Bing Ren at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of California, San Diego and colleagues looked at the genomes of 19 types of mouse tissue.

Or maybe Ms. Krakauer already has a copy of Myth and has been reading it in secret, transporting it to work in a brown paper wrapper.

In all seriousness, this is how scientific myths perish. A debunker like Jonathan Wells sounds the initial alarm and soon enough, after being mocked for some time, his revelation seeps through the culture and emerges as the common wisdom.