Researchers awarded for sleep discoveries

The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to three American researchers for discovering the molecular circuitry of the circadian rhythm. Over several decades of work, Jeffery C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young can help further ex plain how biology adapts to the 24hour cycle of every day. Additionally, their studies found how diseases such as cancer arise in the cells.

One thing that they admit still remains a mystery is the effect of clock genes, in other words, sleep. “While we don’t know what it’s for, we know that it’s important,” said Young.

On Monday morning Oct. 6, the three scientists were awakened with the exciting phone call. Young told a news conference, “This really did take me by surprise and I really had trouble getting my shoes on this morning.” Roshbash who told a separate news reporter, said, “The phone call at 5:10 a.m. this morning destroyed my circadian rhythms by waking me up.”

Generally, most living organisms have a circadian rhythm. The Nobel committee explained, “With exquisite precision, our inner clock adapts our physiology to the dramatically different phases of the day. The clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism.”

Hall and Roshbash, both previously at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, and Young, of Rockefeller University, had conducted research discover ing that a complex internal clock of genes and molecular functions controlling DNA do work together similarly as gears in an old-fashioned timepiece do. They have interconnected mechanisms controlling one an other.

Their research included the use of fruit flies. The three scientists isolated the time or “period” gene in fruit flies, which is shared in humans as well. In 1994, Young discovered another clock gene named “timeless,” which helped control the period-gene’s activity. A third gene discovered by Young was named “double-time,” which helped ad just the 24hour oscillation of the “period” gene.

Our health is affected when our external environment does not match with our internal bio logical clock. With these minor disruptions, studies have shown indications between our life styles and the internal biological rhythm correlated with a higher risk for various diseases.

While each organ is different, the biological clock affects almost every organ in the body and “governs at least half of gene expression” as Robash added. For example, the brain’s rhythm can be adjusted by sunlight, while the liver’s rhythm is influenced by metabolic cues such as eating. Robash continued, “That, of course, is why everything from endocrinology, behavior, metabolism—everything falls under the broad umbrella of circadian rhythms.”

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