That view is shared by science writer Claire Ainsworth who wrote a review in New Scientist: Its' so last century.1 Ainsworth is a freelance science writer with a Ph.D. in developmental genetics from Oxford (Oxford, UK). She is co-founder of SciConnect, a company that teaches science communication skills to scientists.
Here's what she says in her review ....
John Parrington is an associate professor in molecular and cellular pharmacology at the University of Oxford. In The Deeper Genome, he provides an elegant, accessible account of the profound and unexpected complexities of the human genome, and shows how many ideas developed in the 20th century are being overturned.People, including science writers, can have different opinions about the validity of the ENCODE results and whether most of our genome is junk. They can also have different opinions about whether many of the ideas developed in the 20th century are still valid. However, I think it's only fair to at least acknowledge that others may have different opinions.
Take DNA. It's no simple linear code, but an intricately wound, 3D structure that coils and uncoils as its genes are read and spliced in myriad ways. Forget genes as discrete, protein-coding "beads on a string": only a tiny fraction of the genome codes for proteins, and anyway, no one knows exactly what a gene is any more.
A key driver of this new view is ENCODE, the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, which is an ambitious international project to identify the functional parts of the human genome. In 2012, it revealed not only that the protein-coding elements of DNA can overlap, but that the 98 per cent of the genome that used to be labelled inactive "junk" is nothing of the sort. Some of it regulates gene activity, some churns out an array of different kinds of RNA molecules (RNAs for short), some tiny, some large, many of whose functions are hotly debated. Parrington quotes ENCODE scientist Ewan Birney as saying at the time, "It's a jungle in there. It's full of things doing stuff." And that is one of the most apt genome metaphors I've ever read.
Ainsworth must be aware of the controversy over ENCODE's claim that most of our genome has a function. She could have pointed out that Parrington supports the function side but many prominent scientists support the junk DNA side. She could have noted that there have been several scientific papers published since 2012 that defend the concept of junk DNA—and defend it very well.
A good science journalist can express an opinion on a scientific controversy but good science journalists are obliged to point out to their readers that this is just an opinion and there are many expert scientists who disagree.
The readers of this New Scientist book review will think that ENCODE was the last word on the debate and that's not good science reporting.
1. The title of the online version is "DNA is life's blueprint? No, there's far more to it than that."