Midden DNA

Some people don’t like the term “junk DNA”, because they assume all that extra DNA in the human genome must be doing something. Some of those people are tenured faculty, members of the ENCODE project, and have trouble penning reasonable definitions of biological function.

Other people have experimental data to show that random sequences of DNA can be biochemically active without physiological effect, understand that the genome’s complexity resists easy classification, and can, simultaneously, understand that these swathes of non-functional DNA are valuable because they contain the history of our evolution.

In that light, I am going to propose that we abandon the misleading phrase “junk DNA” and adopt a word from archaeology used to describe piles of informative waste: midden*.

A midden…is an old dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone, human excrement, botanical material, vermin, shells, sherds, lithics (especially debitage), and other artifacts and ecofacts associated with past human occupation. The word is of Scandinavian via Middle English derivation, but is used by archaeologists worldwide to describe any kind of feature containing waste products relating to day-to-day human life. – Wikipedia

Now, if you want to call it midden DNA or the DNA midden, that I am happy to leave up to personal taste and style.

*A potential confusion might arise when researchers sequence DNA from biological samples in an actual midden heap – a risk with which I am willing to live.

Author: Josh Witten


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