The Hidden Secrets of Junk DNA

When the human genome was first sequenced in June 2000, we discovered that over 90 percent of our genetic material is made up of “junk DNA”–repetitive, but not identical, sequences of amino acids, perhaps evolutionary debris. But now, respected biophysicist Andras Pellionisz claims that so-called junk DNA is actually the “real” blueprints, stored in fractal patterns, that tells genes how to build living tissue. If correct, he stands to make billions of dollars from his patent application, which covers all attempts to count, measure and compare the fractal properties of introns (the more respectable term for junk DNA) for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Pellionisz hopes his patent application will enable him to launch his company, Helixometry Inc., and make him one of the field’s key players. Read the full article here. A detailed description of his FractoGene patent application can be found here.

7 thoughts on “The Hidden Secrets of Junk DNA”

  1. I think it is disgusting that anyone can patent a process so important for the future treatment of disease and inherited illnessess.
    Gerry Michaud
    Roslin, Ontario

  2. There are certainly a lot of ethical issues regarding patenting anything related to medicine or genetics. But the unfortunate truth is that medicine and biotechnology are businesses like anything else, and it’s difficult to disallow patents for particular areas of research. I don’t begrudge some physicist or software developer patenting an invention that radically changes our world, and which may have taken years of research, because without that patent they may never see a dime–they’ll do all the work, publish the results and then watch as some big corporation uses their results to create products that make them a fortune. It’s not only unfair, but it would result in less innovation and entrepeneurial initiatives. The inventor deserves to reap the rewards.

    But what if the invention is intended to aid people’s health? Or what if it wasn’t originally intended for that reason, but wound up being used in medical devices? Should patents no longer apply? If we don’t allow biologists to patent their research, then we’re forcing them to be unwilling altruists.

    As much as I dislike the pharmaceutical industry, the same rules must apply. Big corporations will not invest the time and money on creating new drugs that their competitors can start duplicating and selling immediately without paying royalties. That said, just because you have a patent, does not mean you have to charge a fortune for its use. Pharmaceutical companies can use the patent defensively, to prevent competitors from benefiting, but still choose to sell the drugs at a reasonable price. Or they could choose to allow other pharmaceutical companies to cheaply manufacture their drugs for third-world nations that desperately need them.

    Patents basically give the inventors the right to choose what is done with their invention. It’s when the owners of patents act unethically, that the system breaks down. I don’t have the answers to how the system could be improved, but I don’t think simply disallowing patents for anything that could aid human health is the correct approach.

  3. This is very interesting and I’ve got to read more about this guy and his ideas but offhand it seems a little screwy. The fundamental idea in biology is that DNA genes direct the manufacture of proteins, which have active sites on their surface that “connect” and “catalyze” reactions. I’ve always considered the junk DNA betwen genes as a “landing pad” for some proteins that control whether the gene farther down the line gets expressed or not and how often. The sequence of the junk DNA can set up specific “attraction sites” for specific proteins, but that “attraction sequence” isn’t gonna be fractal. Likewise, the electrostatic attraction sites set up by junk DNA may attact THEMSELVES as well as other proteins, leading to some sort of DNA folding and possible chromosome 3D organization – again, a possible important function we may know nothing about, but also not required to be fractal in nature. I guess the point is that science progresses by new and startling insights that go against the common dogma like that I’ve outlined here…hope he IS on to something, but the patents seem to be a greedy way to announce it…

  4. “Junk” seems to be out. So let’s forget that embarrassing chapter.

    Helixometry’s Fractogene is one mathematical explanation of exons and introns in the DNA. Patented first and published later? Anything that touches pharmaceutical industry just have to do that – there is simply too much risk at stake.

    Of course, it may be that the fractogene explanation will not be the “final” state of understanding. There is no such thing in research and development.

    But for now, “this is the only game in town”. Everyone is free to come up with anything better, and more importantly, with something that is useful, that is, patentable.

    There are just too many diseases around. If this triggered the “boom of the next big thing”, at least it will be something towards improving our health and not to introduce some stupid internet fad that nobody really needs.

    At the least, health care is a valid business model, and any real breakthrough in genomics is likely to improve our life – as electricity did. (In the industry of electric lights, motors, transportation etc. nobody took much attention to academia. There were only two questions. a) Is it useful? b) At what price?)

  5. I think those might be greedy who approach Helixometry with the right “sophisticated angel” whom they will take (if it has not happened already). It may already be too late, although the “too late for investment?” link is still active on their website. Most “match makers” do this kind of “searching for the right angel” – not for fun but for a fee. The patentor took the time for his discovery, and the “smart angel” provides the funds for a risk in hope of an easy tenfold revenue within a year or two. If Fractogene takes only $1 mil, the “matchmaker” can fetch a decent yearly salary (if the fee is a typical 5%) just for a couple of well-placed phone calls. If he/she gets it in shares, such an easy and quick “matchmaking” could yield a pretty penny.

    If anyone is bothered by *others* making money, why don’t you think with the head of these guys and call ahead those Venture Capitalists (whom the article says the inventor will not take), but it is widespread knowledge that a lot of VC partners are very rich and some are very knowledgable in the subject – and some of these VC partners do “angel investments” out of their own pocket. They first make their *own* money on the “new next big thing” and later help doing the round A with the VC company in which they are a partner already, and in the next stage wrap such investments together with those pharma- and/or information technology company that they also finance already.

    All this is completely legal, widespread practice, simply called “leveraging”. Get over your envy, get into the act. Companies are meant to be “win-win” for a *lot* of people.

  6. The December 5th issue of Nature discloses that the mouse’ gene pool is 99% identical to the genes of homo sapiens. However, it was known by as early as in May, 2002 that the mouse DNA contains about 10% less information compared to the human. So, what is the difference? Clearly, it must be exactly those “fractal” repetitions that Pellionisz’ “fractogene” patent application clearly explains. Other than the utility that he submitted for a patent application, this aspect of “fractogene”, also provides a mathematical explanation of evolution, explaining not only what makes us different from e.g. the mouse (the higher number of repeated self-similar introns) but also “how” the difference arises (by generating a higher and higher number of e.g. “bifurcations” on the brain cell displyed on http://fractogene.com/full_genome/fractogene.html).

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