The Human Genome Project produced an almost complete order of the 3 billion pairs of chemical letters in the DNA that embodies the human genetic code — but little about the way this blueprint works. Now, after a multi-year concerted effort by more than 440 researchers in 32 labs around the world, a more dynamic picture gives the first holistic view of how the human genome actually does its job. During the new study, researchers linked more than 80 percent of the human genome sequence to a specific biological function and mapped more than 4 million regulatory regions where proteins specifically interact with the DNA. These findings represent a significant advance in understanding the precise and complex controls over the expression of genetic information within a cell. The findings bring into much sharper focus the continually active genome in which proteins routinely turn genes on and off using sites that are sometimes at great distances from the genes themselves. They also identify where chemical modifications of DNA influence gene expression and where various functional forms of RNA, a form of nucleic acid related to DNA, help regulate the whole system. "During the early debates about the Human Genome Project, researchers had predicted that only a few percent of the human genome sequence encoded proteins, the workhorses of the cell, and that the rest was junk. We now know that this conclusion was wrong," said Eric D. Green, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), a part of the National Institutes of Health. "ENCODE has revealed that most of the human genome is involved in the complex molecular choreography required for converting genetic information into living cells and organisms." The NHGRI organized the research project producing these results; it is called the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements or ENCODE.
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