From trash to treasure: Junk DNA and its role in Cell Development

97% of human DNA that was previously considered ‘Junk’ could hold the key to finding new therapies for cancer, according to new research published in the prestigious ‘Cell’ journal.

Junk DNA is characterised by genes which don’t encode proteins, and it has long been overlooked in medical research because of this reason (proteins have been considered the most important biochemical component of cells).

However, using the latest gene sequencing techniques and analysis, a team led by Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital’s Professor John Rasko AO, together with Centenary’s Head of Bioinformatics Dr William Ritchie, have shown that particular white blood cells do use Junk DNA to regulate a group of genes that controls cell shape and function.

“This discovery, involving what was previously referred to as Junk, opens up a new level of gene expression control that could also play a role in the development of many other tissue types,” Professor Rasko says.”

“[Our] team of researchers have laboured hard for the last five years to uncover this unsuspected mechanism. Our observations were quite surprising, and we hope they will provide opportunities for new therapeutic targets in diseases like leukaemia and cancer.’

These specific non-coding Junk sequences are known in research circles as “introns”, as they intersperse the protein encoding sequences. In the last 5-10 years, researchers have dedicated more resources towards investigating these former “irritating interruptions” in genetic sequences, and in uncovering the impact of these processes on cell function and behaviour.

The ACRF is proud to have funded the work of world-class research teams at both the Centenary Institute and RPA with grants totalling $6.2 million.

For more information about this research breakthrough, please click here.