Science fiction writers should always try to expand their vocabulary.  Actually, writers of all kinds should do that.  Actually, everyone should, but science fiction writers should pay special attention to scientific terms.  I for one want to have as many sciency words at my disposal as possible.

A while back, I stumbled upon an interesting word: intron.  It’s a DNA segment that does not translate into a protein, and some people call it “junk DNA.”  I immediately thought of genetic engineering.  Why would the mad scientists of tomorrow waste their time on junk DNA?  Wouldn’t they just remove it?

The answer, I have determined, is no.

Based on further reading and notes given to me by a real scientist, I’ve learned that introns do serve some purposes.  For example, if a gene is like a sentence giving instructions, introns are the white spaces separating one word from another.  Taking them out would make things very hard to read.  They act as a control mechanism, and the size and position of an intron is very important (Rae, 366).

During my research, I learned another interesting word: aberrant.  It’s an adjective for something that deviates from the normal type.  An aberrant intron wouldn’t translate into a protein any more than a regular intron, but it might follow some unnatural pattern that could only be man made.  In the future, genetic engineers won’t waste time on junk DNA if they can avoid it.  Especially the lazy ones.  Perhaps large amounts of aberrant introns could indicate poor craftsmanship.


Rae, Peter M.M.  “Intron.”  McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology.  Eighth Edition, volume 9.  NY: McGraw-Hill 1997.  Pages 366-367.

Special thanks to Blanche O’Neill, the scientist who helped with my research for this post.

3 responses »

  1. […] Read the original post on Planet Pailly: “Aberrant Introns.” […]


  2. Casi Nerina says:

    Introns could also be a way to “sign” a geneticists work.


    • James Pailly says:

      I seem to remember reading that someone (a pharmaceutical company, maybe?) recently did something like that. Maybe it will become really common in some distant, Sci-Fi future where genetic engineering is considered a form of art.


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