When the Human Genome Project showed that only 2% of the genome consisted of genes, lots of people thought that the rest was not very useful bits of code. But this week a consortium of scientists which have reported on ENCODE, Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, say that over 80% of the human genome is functional. A lot of the DNA is code to switch genes on and off and have other regulatory roles. This could go some way to explain why certain diseases have a genetic and environmental component and lead to a wider understanding of how gene expression is regulated.
In order to run smoothly and efficiently the Panama Canal in Central America needs fresh water to run off the land to keep it topped up. This counts as an ecosystem service, provided by nature for free. When rain falls on the surrounding forests, some should get used by the plants and absorbed by the soil, but some should run off to keep the busy shipping lanes open. But if the run off is full of sediment, then the canal gets clogged up. So the forests have to manage the water in the right way. Scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute or STRI are working to measure all kinds of things that affect the flow of water from when it falls as rain to when it drains into the canal.
(Image: DNA autoradiogram. Credit: Science Photo Library)