“There’s a revolution under way in biology. Scientists are coming to understand that genetics isn’t just about genes. Just as important are smaller sequences of DNA that control genes.
These so-called regulatory elements tell genes when to turn on and off, and when to stop functioning altogether. A new study suggests that changes in these non-gene sequences of DNA may hold the key to explaining how all species evolved.
To better understand this revolution in biology, we have to go back about a century. At that time, the notion of a gene was fairly simple. A gene was responsible for a particular trait.
“There was a gene for blue eyes, a gene for curly hair, etc.,” says Gregory Wray, a geneticist at Duke University. But genes were just a concept in those days. Nobody really knew what a gene looked like. That changed in 1953, when James Watson and Francis Crick showed that genes were made of DNA, and that DNA was the chemical that allowed genes to be passed from parent to child.”