Premier praises ‘junk DNA’ discovery
[ Research Review 0906 : Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences ]
The so-called ‘junk DNA’ in our bodies may be part of what makes us human — not just useless bits of genome left from millions of years of evolution — according to research for a University of Melbourne PhD.
Melbourne medical graduate and PhD student Dr Ken Pang has attracted international attention for his findings and a high commendation for his work in this year’s Premier’s Awards for Medical Research.
Dr Pang, 31, is based in the University of Melbourne-affiliated Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research’s Melbourne Centre for Clinical Sciences, in Heidelberg, where his PhD supervisor is Dr Weisan Chen.
His work in the emerging and controversial field of ‘junk DNA’ suggests it may be essential to who we are. “When the human genome was mapped in 2001, our genes accounted for less than two per cent of the 2.9 billion letters of DNA code each of us has,” he said.
“Many scientists dismissed the rest as junk, ‘left-over’ rubbish from evolution. They think the DNA that does not produce protein has no role in our body. But they are wrong.”
“Taken together, my work dispels the long-held belief that our genomes are replete with useless information. This radically alters our understanding of how the human genome works, and promises to significantly influence the future practice of medicine.”
Ken’s work has taken him to Brisbane, where he worked with renowned biologist Professor John Mattick at the University of Queensland, and to Tokyo, where he worked with Dr Yoshihide Hayashizaki, head of the RIKEN Genome Exploration Research Group.
He has also collaborated with University of Melbourne Laureate Professor Peter Doherty in studying mutant influenza viruses, part of parallel research for his PhD in immunology. In three years he has had 10 scientific papers published, and is a first author on half of these.
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