Initial ENCODE Project Data Published!
The human genome project revealed the sequence of the roughly 3 billion DNA bases and approximately 25,000 genes found within our cells. But exactly how that information is interpreted to, for example, be able to produce the nearly 300 distinct cell types found in the human body is still unknown. This week marks the completion and publication of the first major findings put forth by the ENCODE project (ENCODE is an acronym for ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements), which aims to catalog and characterize all of the functional DNA elements in the human genome. In so doing, scientists hope to achieve a greater understanding for the fundamental biological processes that govern the way our DNA behaves in a cellular context to actually do its job.
This landmark event is the result of a massive collaborative effort that saw more than 3,000 experiments performed by 440 researchers in 32 scientific labs worldwide. Their findings were published in 30 different manuscripts spanning three different journals. The ENCODE project was funded in large part by the National Human Genome Research Institute and the NIH.
Of special interest is the novel and interactive way in which the results were presented. The findings from the 30 ENCODE papers are freely available online and are organized into “Threads” on the Nature website (http://www.nature.com/encode), allowing researchers to quickly and easily find the specific results that most interest them. The ENCODE project even has its own interactive iPad App that contains all of the same Threads and papers that are contained on the online site (http://itunes.apple.com/app/id553487333)!
While one of the goals of the ENCODE project was to take an inventory of all of the functional elements in the human genome for all scientists to use to make discoveries for their own research, there have already been some interesting findings. For example, the investigators showed that 80% of the genome contains at least one functional element, raising the possibility that there is not as much “junk DNA” as previously thought. The ENCODE project has the chance to be an amazing resource and revolutionize the way research is conducted.
What do you think? How will the results and presentation of the ENCODE project change basic and medical science research?