Scientists today unveiled the most in-depth exploration yet of the human genome—complete with what they're likening to a "Google Maps" system that allows researchers to explore it. The research, which involved 1,600 experiments conducted by hundreds of scientists in dozens of labs, promises to fundamentally change the way scientists look at DNA, NPR reports. Until now, scientists had believed much of the genome was useless filler. "The phrase that was thrown around was junk DNA," one geneticist says.
But the ENCODE (Encyclopedia of DNA elements) project found that most of that "junk" was serving a purpose. "The most amazing thing that we found was that we can ascribe some kind of biochemical activity to 80% of the genome," another geneticist says. That information has all been placed on ENCODE maps, which lets researchers "zoom into genes and even down to individual nucleotides … the same way that someone interested in using Google Maps can," she says. (Read more human genome stories.)