The history of junk DNA and RNA: misconceptions and lessons for science and society
The purpose of my stay at the Brocher Foundation is to conclude a book on the History of RNA and junk DNA. I have performed a historical analysis encompassing the birth of genetics in the 1800s, through the “Golden Age” of molecular biology in the 1950s-70s and the recent “Genomics” and “Post-genomics” eras.
With this book I intend to provide a detailed analysis of the process that led to our current understanding and applications of molecular genetics, with focus on non-coding DNA, RNA and the logic of genome regulation.
This book will propose a central hypothesis that the long held premise that proteins are the final destination of genetic “information” has biased the interpretation of the role of DNA and RNAs, and (among other factors) led to the notions of junk DNA. In particular, that the roots of a protein-centric view can be traced to the very beginning of our quest to understand the molecular basis of the living world in the 19th century.
A key objective of this book is to help filling the gap in the historical account of the ideas concerning the breadth of functions of DNA and RNAs. Likewise, it will contextualize the recent advances in genomics and RNA research in a historical framework, and highlight how their expanding functional repertoire has filled in not only suspected, but also many unsuspected phenomenological and mechanistic gaps in molecular biology and biomedicine. I am devoting special attention to central aspects of the underlying philosophy of science and how it has reflected the development of key concepts in biology.