Despite what science says, God didn’t make any (so-called) “junk DNA,”—and Israeli scientists have discovered another—potentially life-saving—treasure in one piece of the genetic code that had previously been labeled “junk” (a term for large sections of DNA that scientists don’t know the purpose of…yet). Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have found a genetic mutation that appears to provide protection from ALS, a nervous system disease that weakens the muscles.
In a study of 70,000 samples of DNA, Dr. Chen Eitan and Prof. Eran Hornstein identified a mutation in noncoding DNA (“junk DNA”) that reduces the risk of developing the diseases by one-fifth. And they are hopeful they can turn this discovery into something that will help those suffering from the disease.
“In short, we found a ‘hit’ associated with ALS, but a mutation that actually cuts vulnerability instead of vice-versa,” Dr. Eitan said.
“Until now, there have been 25 genes that were linked to ALS, all of them because they appear to cause the disease or make it worse. But when we looked at noncoding DNA, we found a mutation that does the opposite. It actually appears to significantly reduce the chances that a person will have ALS, to a fifth of the usual risk.”
Eitan and Hornstein’s peer-reviewed findings were recently published in the Nature Neuroscience journal.
ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which gained international attention during the Ice Bucket Challenge several years ago) starts with inflammation in the brain. The genetic coding discovered by the Weizmann team appears to reduce or completely stop the progression, sending out a signal that halts the release of substances that would otherwise turn up the heat on the inflammation process in the brain.
“The mutation works by inhibiting a toxic pathway that would naturally make ALS symptoms worse. Now, we are working on mimicking the mutation in order to see whether this has a positive effect on patients. We’re hopeful that this could help people who are sick with ALS,” Dr. Eitan said.
Eitan also said that their findings should spur other scientists to not disregard the sections of the DNA code that appear to have no biological function.
“Our findings indicate that scientists should not ignore noncoding regions of DNA – not just in ALS research, but in studying other diseases with a genetic component as well.”
And as David in Psalm 139 reminds us—we are “fearfully and wonderfully made…knit together (by God) in (our) mother’s womb.”