By Michael Marshall
Patches of seemingly meaningless DNA dotted throughout the genome might actually have a function: helping cells to survive starvation.
Two studies published in Nature on 16 January suggest that these stretches of non-coding DNA called introns help to control the rate at which cells grow, conserving energy when food becomes scarce.
Genes carry the information needed to make proteins. But many genes contain introns: sequences of non-coding DNA, the vast majority of which don’t appear to do anything.
Some researchers suspected introns did more than meets the eye.
In one of the latest studies1, Sherif Abou Elela, a microbiologist at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada, and his colleagues examined baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), whose DNA has 295 introns. They spent ten years meticulously creating hundreds of yeast strains, each missing just one of its introns.
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