The Genome’s Dark Matter
From architecture to function, the ENCODE project’s researchers are filling in the gaps in our understanding of human genetics.
In February 2001, when the human genome’s sequence was formally published, the blueprint of human life seemed to be at hand. But in fact, vast swaths of the genome went undescribed, and there was little sense of how its pieces interacted.
To fill these holes in understanding, the National Human Genome Research Institute launched the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements project, known as ENCODE. Its goal is to find and label every “functional element” in the human genome and determine how they fit together. The same is being done in modENCODE, the project’s model organism counterpart, using fruit flies and roundworms. In December 2010, modENCODE released its first major findings. The human work is expected to follow in the next two years. Here’s a sampling of what has been uncovered so far.