[Text coming soon, but you know why human genome is among the top ten genomes :) ]
The human genome gets the top position for two reasons.
(i) For being the most unusually usual. Every attempt to show ‘our genome’ to be exceptional failed so far.
(ii) For attracting the largest number of mountebanks.
Take the number of coding genes for example. When the human genome was being sequenced, Ewan Birney used to run gene sweepstakes to get predictions for the number of genes, and the estimates made by scientists ranged from 30K to 150K with the higher side being more popular. “Fruitfly has 15K gene and we are a lot more exceptional than fruitflies” was the sort of argument.
It all began in a bar. Three years ago, as the DNA sequence of the human genome was nearing completion, biologists’ estimates of the number of its genes ranged from 28,000 to 140,000. At the bar at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory one evening, Dr. Ewan Birney, had the idea of opening a sweepstakes. He invited researchers to register their best estimates of the number of genes, with the winner – with the guess closest to the final number – to be announced this year. Bets cost $1 in 2000, $5 in 2001 and $20 since last year.
The final count came to be no more that 20,000, which is the same number, plus or minus some, for almost all vertebrates. Yet, nobody wanted to believe it and many still do not want to believe it. From the same 2003 NY Times article -
“The gene count will certainly go up from the 30,000 that people currently” claim,’ Dr. Snyder said in an interview. “The message out there is that there is clearly a lot more coding information.” Pressed for an estimate, he replied, “I’ll guess total genes – over 40,000.”
Snyder spent all his life trying to reach that 100,000 number with a series of failed argument (the latest one being alternative splicing). He even went to the extent of sequencing his own genome (‘Snyderome’), possibly believing that an exceptional person like him would have another 30% more genes than other earthlings.
That brings us to the point of mountebanks. There are just too many associated with the human genome - Birney, Snyder, Collins, Cole, Frederickson - to name a few. It is because only the kind of money associated with the human genome can support a large number of them.
Francis Collins retracted five papers in 1996 and blamed it all on his co-author. He claimed that as a senior author of two-author paper, he had no clue of what was going on !! If the discoveries qualified for Nobel prize instead, Collins would have been the first in line to claim credit. Instead of being banned from being a scientist for this ‘heads I win, tails my junior colleague loses’ feat, Collins had been rewarded with higher and higher positions in the human genome hierarchy.
Snyder published two times as many papers as Eric Davidson over the last decade but with hardly any discovery to report. In the meanwhile, Davidson reinvented developmental biology by working with the sea urchin genome and wrote the most profound book that will change our understanding of evolution. Speaking of Snyder, the other day I read in twitter that he and his student ‘invented RNAseq’, as claimed by his student in a talk !!! Only Snyder and people associated with Snyder can pull such chutzpah. What is there to invent? I heard about measuring gene expression using high-throughput sequencing from Eric Davidson ever since Mortazavi and Wold started their ChIPseq experiments in Caltech.
Ewan Birney was profiled by Science in 2012 as ‘Genomics’ Big Talker’. He wrote an article explaining how big science had been successful in changing biology, such as in ‘writing eulogy for junk DNA’. We know how that fiction ended.
However, it is noteworthy, how Birney responded to criticisms of his so-called textbook-changing scientific discovery. Sandwalk blog reported in 2012 -
Birney has a blog [Response on ENCODE reaction] but he has not responded to questions. Check out Ryan Gregory’s post to see what Birney is avoiding: Comments on Birneys blog. Pay particular attention to the questions asked by Diogenes. Let’s hope that the reason for Birney’s silence is because he’s preparing a lengthy and scientifically accurate response!
I wonder if Science is going to publish anything else on this fiasco? Most of the other journals have at least acknowledged that there’s a problem with the ENCODE publicity campaign. Some have even defended junk DNA and emphasized the misleading statements published by Birney et al. So far, there’s nothing on the Science website in spite of the fact that Science published one of the worst interpretations of the ENCODE results…. Or maybe it’s BECAUSE it published such a biased account that we’re not seeing any follow-up.
Not answering question about scientific theories is so 2012. These days, Birney is outright banning others from asking him critical questions.
Cole and Frederickson (the positivity lady) are crooks of a different dimension, who connect between the human genome and happiness/sadness of people. After we showed that their paper was complete nonsense, they went to the NCBI GEO database and surreptitiously uploaded a new file with modified raw data !! Needless to say, that invalidated their original paper, but who can fight unlimited funding for junk science from NIH?