Cerebral Hemispheres 2
NEUROSCIENTIFICALLY CHALLENGED

NEUROSCIENCE MADE SIMPLER

Further Proof "Junk DNA" Has Value


The prevalence of noncoding regions of DNA in the genome of humans and many other eukaryotic organisms has long been a subject of controversy. DNA is composed of alternating areas called exons and introns. When DNA is transcribed to mRNA (the first step of protein synthesis), the introns (from "intragenic regions") are spliced out before the final mRNA sequence is formed. The exons become part of the mRNA and can code for amino acids involved in protein formation. The function of introns has been a mystery, and their ostensible superfluousness has caused some to refer to them as “junk DNA”.

Numerous hypotheses have been developed to explain the existence of introns. Some have suggested they are merely relics of old genes that no longer have any use to us, and thus have become non-functional. Others have postulated that junk DNA provides a buffer around integral genes to save them from being cut when portions of chromosomes “cross over” in meiosis. But many other scientists have not been satisfied with the suggestion that such a large portion of a genome (by some estimates up to 97%) would have a passive, or even meaningless, role.

Included in that group is a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, who have discovered an important role in cellular function that is played by an intron. In 2005, they found that dendrites, the branch-like arms of a neuron that receive input from other neural cells, have the ability to splice mRNA. This was previously thought to occur only in the nucleus of cells. More recently, the group discovered an mRNA outside the nucleus that contains an intron. The mRNA encodes for a protein important to the functioning of the dendrite.

When the group removed the intron from the mRNA and left a spliced RNA molecule in the cell, the electrical properties of the cell became irregular. They believe the intron plays an integral role in guiding the mRNA to the dendrite, and may be involved in determining how many mRNAs are brought there to form electrically conducting channels. To serve this function, the intron may be spliced out of the mRNA by the dendrite and then incorporated into the dendrite itself. The details are not yet certain, but what is clear is this particular intron has an essential role in the cell, thus bringing the moniker “junk DNA” further into question, and inviting more research into the greater part of our genome.

YOUR BRAIN, EXPLAINED

Sleep. Memory. Pleasure. Fear. Language. We experience these things every day, but how do our brains create them? Your Brain, Explained is a personal tour around your gray matter. Building on neuroscientist Marc Dingman’s popular YouTube series, 2-Minute Neuroscience, this is a friendly, engaging introduction to the human brain and its quirks using real-life examples and Dingman’s own, hand-drawn illustrations.

  • Dingman weaves classic studies with modern research into easily digestible sections, to provide an excellent primer on the rapidly advancing field of neuroscience. - Moheb Costandi, author, Neuroplasticity and 50 Human Brain Ideas You Really Need to Know

  • An informative, accessible and engaging book for anyone who has even the slightest interest in how the brain works, but doesn’t know where to begin. - Dean Burnett, PhD, author, Happy Brain and Idiot Brain

  • ...a highly readable and accessible introduction to the operation of the brain and current issues in neuroscience... a wonderful introduction to the field. - Frank Amthor, PhD, Professor of Psychology, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, author, Neuroscience for Dummies

  • Reading like a collection of detective stories, Your Brain, Explained combines classic cases in the history of neurology with findings stemming from the latest techniques used to probe the brain’s secrets. - Stanley Finger, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Washington University (St. Louis), author, Origins of Neuroscience

BIZARRE

This book shows a whole other side of how brains work by examining the most unusual behavior to emerge from the human brain. In it, you'll meet a woman who is afraid to take a shower because she fears her body will slip down the drain, a man who is convinced he is a cat, a woman who compulsively snacks on cigarette ashes, and many other unusual cases. As uncommon as they are, each of these cases has something important to teach us about everyday brain function.

  • A unique combination of storytelling and scientific explanation that appeals to the brain novice, the trained neuroscientist, and everyone in between. Dingman explores some of the most fascinating and mysterious expressions of human behavior in a style that is case study, dramatic novel, and introductory textbook all rolled into one. - Alison Kreisler, PhD, Neuroscience Instructor, California State University, San Marcos

  • Through case studies of both exceptional people as well as those with disorders, Bizarre takes us on a fascinating journey in which we learn more about what is going on in our skull. - William J. Ray, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University, author, Abnormal Psychology

  • Dingman brings the history of neuroscience back to life and weaves in contemporary ideas seamlessly. Readers will come along for the ride of a really interesting read and accidentally learn some neuroscience along the way. - Erin Kirschmann, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology & Counseling, Immaculata University

  • Bizarre is a collection of stories of how the brain can create zombies, cult members, extra limbs, instant musicians, and overnight accents, to name a few of the mind-scratching cases. After reading this book, you will walk away with a greater appreciation for this bizarre organ. If you are a fan of Oliver Sacks' books, you're certain to be a fan of Dingman's Bizarre. - Allison M. Wilck, PhD, Researcher and Assistant Professor of Psychology, Eastern Mennonite University