ENCODE: What the experts say

Only 2% of your DNA is made up of genes, according to a ground-breaking new study. Experts in genetics explain what it means and why it's important.

 Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College London and Director of TwinsUK
 Tim Spector "Genes do a great job of staying stable and reproducing over generations, but what makes us tick is how we switch our genes on and off. Epigenetics shows that the old idea of nature versus nurture is no longer valid. The two are interchangeable, and we’re all a mixture of both. There’s no 'environmental' effect that doesn’t have a genetic basis."

 Jeff Barrett, Medical Genomics Group Leader, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
 Jeff Barrett  "There are very few hard edges in biology. Organisms are plastic, so a direct arrow from mutation to disease is not so simple. Similarly, going from studying genes to medical treatment is complicated. We need to understand the biology, chemistry, and even the physics involved. ENCODE gets these scientists together and shortens the path to treatment and drug discovery."

Ines Varela-Silva, Lecturer in Human Biology, Loughborough University
Ines Varela-Silva   "Genes distinguish us from other species – but that's about it! Our environment makes us who we are as people. Humans are complex bio-cultural individuals who can adapt to many different environmental settings. Genetic ‘plasticity’ is key - the concepts of ‘biological race’ and ‘genetic potential’ are becoming obsolete. ENCODE’s data has the potential to contribute to a fairer and more just world."
John Stamatoyannopoulos, Associate Professor of Genome Sciences, University of Washington School of Medicine
 John Stamatoyannopoulos "The understanding that the ENCODE project gives us means an extraordinary amount of existing information we couldn’t use previously can now be used. Studies on the genetics of common diseases, for example. Projects like ENCODE have turned the genome almost into a software tool. You can use ENCODE data to filter the genome and light up the regions you're interested in."  

Find out more about the discovery on Nature.com