Fergus Walsh explains the latest findings
Scientists have published the most detailed analysis to date of the human genome.
They've discovered a far larger chunk of our genetic code is biologically active than previously thought. The researchers hope the findings will lead to a deeper understanding of numerous diseases, which could lead to better treatments.
More than 400 scientists in 32 laboratories in the UK, US, Spain, Singapore and Japan were involved.
Their findings are published in 30 connected open-access papers appearing in three journals,
The Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (Encode) was launched in 2003 with the goal of identifying all the functional elements within the human genome. A pilot project looking at 1% of the genome was published in 2007.
Now the Encode project has analyzed all three billion pairs of genetic code that make up our DNA.
They have found 80% of our genome is performing a specific function.
Up to now, most attention has been focused on protein-coding genes, which make up just 2% of the genome.
Genes are small sections of DNA that contain instructions for which chemicals - proteins - they should produce. The Encode team analyzed the vast area of the genome sometimes called "junk DNA" because it seemed to have little function and was poorly understood.
Dr Ewan Birney, of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, who led the analysis, told me:
The scientists also identified four million gene "switches".
These are sections of DNA that control when genes are switched on or off in cells. They said the switches were often a long way along the genome from the gene they controlled.
Dr Birney said:
Scientists acknowledge that it is likely to be many years before patients see tangible benefits from the project.
But another of the Encode team, Dr Ian Dunham said the data could ultimately be of help in every area of disease research.
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute director Prof Mike Stratton said the results were,