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The Gene Is Having an Identity Crisis 257

gollum123 writes "New large-scale studies of DNA are causing a rethinking of the very nature of genes. A typical gene is no longer conceived of as a single chunk of DNA encoding a single protein. It turns out, for example, that several different proteins may be produced from a single stretch of DNA. Most of the molecules produced from DNA may not even be proteins, but rather RNA. The familiar double helix of DNA no longer has a monopoly on heredity: other molecules clinging to DNA can produce striking differences between two organisms with the same genes — and those molecules can be inherited along with DNA. Scientists have been working on exploring the 98% of the genome not identified as the protein-coding region. One of the biggest of these projects is an effort called the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, or 'Encode.' And its analysis of only 1% of the genome reveals the genome to be full of genes that are deeply weird, at least by the traditional standard of what a gene is supposed to be and do. The Encode team estimates that the average protein-coding region produces 5.7 different transcripts. Different kinds of cells appear to produce different transcripts from the same gene. And it gets even weirder. Our DNA is studded with millions of proteins and other molecules, which determine which genes can produce transcripts and which cannot. New cells inherit those molecules along with DNA. In other words, heredity can flow through a second channel."

Stellar rays prove fibbing never pays. Embezzlement is another matter.