What is the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) Project?

The ENCODE Project was planned as a follow-up to the Human Genome Project. The Human Genome Project sequenced the DNA that makes up the human genome; the ENCODE Project seeks to interpret this sequence. Coinciding with the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, the ENCODE Project began as a worldwide effort involving more than 30 research groups and more than 400 scientists.

The approximately 20,000 genes that provide instructions for making proteins account for only about 1 percent of the human genome. Researchers embarked on the ENCODE Project to figure out the purpose of the remaining 99 percent of the genome. Scientists discovered that more than 80 percent of this non-gene component of the genome, which was once considered “junk DNA,” actually has a role in regulating the activity of particular genes (gene expression).

Researchers think that changes in the regulation of gene activity may disrupt protein production and cell processes and result in disease. A goal of the ENCODE Project is to link variations in the expression of certain genes to the development of disease.

The ENCODE Project has given researchers insight into how the human genome functions. As researchers learn more about the regulation of gene activity and how genes are expressed, the scientific community will be able to better understand how the entire genome can affect human health.