Hopefully by now you have read David Weinberger's Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. It's quite an interesting and absorbing read, one of those books that makes you look at the world just a bit differently. I seem to be doing that an awful lot lately, finding unexpected applications of Weinberger's thesis all over the place. The latest? The human genome!
The ENCODE Project just published its findings from a detailed investigation of 1% of the human genome, and it looks like it's waaaaaaaaaay more complex and interesting than we thought. There's the main article (DOI: 10.1038/nature05874) in the current issue of the journal Nature, and a whole slew of additional articles in this month's Genome Research. I've been working through Gerstein, et al.'s What is a gene, post-ENCODE? History and updated definition (DOI: 10.1101/gr.6339607) for a very absorbing look at how our notion of a "gene" has changed dramatically in the years since Mendel and his peas, and where our understanding of "gene" stands in light of this exciting new data from ENCODE.
It looks like the genome, far from being a nicely organized library of genetic building blocks, is a messy snarl of bits of coding DNA, all mixed up together in a pile. There is of course some physical structure to it all, but it seems pretty well jumbled up; the parts of a gene don't even need to be on the same chromosome. It reminded me of Weinberger's big miscellaneous pile, into which all our information goes, waiting to be organized by users and searchers according to their needs and desires. In the Miscellaneous Genome, the users and searchers are the complex regulatory networks of the cell, which seek out and assemble the bits they need to create the machinery and processes of life. They know how to read the genomic metadata that we are trying to grasp; once we can read the metadata, we'll be able to sift through the Miscellaneous Genome with ease.
Go read the book; go read the articles. Good stuff.