Genomics and Beyond
By: Jim Virkler
Citizens who have lived through World War II may contemplate a treasure of science discoveries. One favored activity is searching out timelines of discovery in science as a general field. The timelines can be broken down into many branches of specialized knowledge including life science. Advances in this field have been startling. We gain insights in our quest for truth concerning humanity. Fundamentally, knowledge of life science is far more complex than knowledge of physical science. Since the discovery of the DNA helix structure in 1953 our knowledge has multiplied exponentially.
The genetic code was deciphered in 1961. Since the 1970s scientists have perfected more efficient methods by which the partial or complete sequence of nucleotides in DNA is revealed. In 2003 a complete sequence of human DNA was published for the first time including all protein coding and non-coding genes. Protein coding has been characterized as “an incredibly detailed blueprint for building every human cell.” The familiar abbreviations of the DNA base pairs are AT and CG. They function like letters in an alphabetic code of language. This code is one of the wonders of nature and a strong argument for intelligent design. Complex codes have been acknowledged as the product of an intelligent designer. The prescribed proteins producing complex life are “coded for” and life requires nothing less.
An organism’s genome catalogs its complete set of genetic material. Genomics is a modern term introduced to the science community in 1986 even though discoveries concerning the human genome had been advancing for several decades. Only 1.5% of the human genome codes for proteins, the building blocks of life. Reusing a favorite construction analogy, we could say that when the complement of building materials for a new home or factory structure is assembled, the builder possesses the necessary “coded-for” physical components. The lack of one or more construction materials would result in an incomplete building, perhaps even a building which has no function whatever. 98.5% of the genetic code does not code for proteins but is still expressed as a sequence of the familiar AT and CG nucleotide pairs. The sequence comprises over three billion nucleotide pairs.
Most of our discussion relates to genomics. How does our post title “Beyond Genomics” relate to our search for truth concerning human existence? Genomics is far from a complete body of truth concerning the assembly of the human organism and how it functions. In recent decades bioscientists have realized genomics is only the beginning of the story. We gain knowledge constantly and progressively. For example, we have observed a virtual revolution in genomic knowledge of 98.5% of the human genetic sequence which does not code for proteins. Much of the sequence of non-coding DNA has been termed “junk DNA,” a term currently passing into oblivion. Evolutionists had thought much human DNA was “junk,” left over as a remnant of evolution but no longer useful. Non-coding DNA has increasingly been discovered to have useful function.
The proteome is the study of the entire set of millions of known proteins. “Proteomics,” a term introduced in 1997, is an offshoot of genomics dealing with the structure and function of proteins. Another fascinating ongoing study is termed “epigenetics.” Knowledge of these fields takes us “beyond genomics.” Assembly of bodily proteins is merely the introductory chapter in the story of how living things function. Epigenetics takes us to the realm of gene regulation which drives the operation of virtually every activity of living things. We eagerly await the additional secrets to be revealed by the new field of developmental biology. It is our considered opinion that future discoveries in developmental biology, epigenetics, gene regulation, and a host of other fields in bioscience will magnify knowledge of the role of the omnipotent Creator of life.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.