Non-Coding DNA May Not be as Useless as We Think
DNA is the genetic material that makes everything that's living unique and similar at the same time. All living things share at least a small percentage of their DNA with all other organisms, and this is due to the idea that all life on earth came from a single common ancestor. DNA calls for the production of amino acids, and these chains of amino acids form to become more complex proteins. DNA is made up of a 4 letter alphabet, GTCA, and is read in groups of 3, however, not all DNA calls for the production of proteins. Start and stop codons call for what parts of the DNA are to be transcribed and then translated into the basic building blocks that create us and all other life. The genes that do not fall between these codons are called non-coding DNA, simply because they do not code for the production of protein. For years, scientists have questioned the importance of these non-coding regions, and many thought that they were completely useless. A team led by Moises Mallo from Portugal explored what may happen if the non-coding regions were altered.
Picture of a snake's backbone and vertebrae, retrieved from here
The team looked into why snakes have ribs that extend out of each vertebra all the way down to their tails. This is uncommon among vertebrates because for most vertebrates there is a distinguished head, neck, rib cage, and tail region, even though the sizes for each region vary between species. For snakes it seems just like all one long region.
The scientists examined the specific genes that slow down the rib production in mice, and actually found that it was the same in snakes too. The difference was in the non-coding DNA that was surrounding those certain genes. This has led scientists to believe that the non-coding sequences may have some important evolutionary stems and that they are related to the body size of the organism.