Nobel Prize Honors US Scientists for Helping Us Understand Our Biological Clock

Nobel Prize awards to be announced starting October 2

Nobel Prize awards to be announced starting October 2

Dr Michael Hastings, who researches circadian timing at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, told the BBC: "Before this work in fruit flies we really didn't have any ideas of the genetic mechanism - body clocks were viewed as a black box on a par with astrology".

All life on Earth has evolved on a planet that spins on its axis once every 24 hours.

"This year's Nobel prize laureates have been studying this fundamental problem and solved the mystery of how an inner clock in our bodies can anticipate daily fluctuations between night and day to optimize our behavior and physiology".

In 1984, taking as its models of fruit flies, the three researchers and their respective teams of american universities, Brandeis of Boston and Rockefeller of NY, have identified and isolated the gene responsible for the production of a protein called PER.

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"The paradigm-shifting discoveries by the laureates established key mechanisms for the biological clock", the Nobel Assembly said in its prize statement.

Michael Rosbash (BS '65), the Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience and professor of biology at Brandeis University and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has been awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Consequently additional protein components of this machinery were also identified by them that, in turn, revealed the mechanism that governs "the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell".

This is how the gene regulates awakening, sleeping, eating habits, hormone release, body temperature and blood pressure, among other inner processes. Hall and Rosbash also discovered the protein theperiodgeneencoded, which appeared to build up during the night and degrade during the day on a circadian rhythm. "It's good to have the attention on this kind of basic work", Rosbash told Reuters after winning the coveted award.

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Their work goes back to 1984 when the three men were able to separate out the "period gene" in fruit flies.

In the 1980s, Hall and Rosbash, working at Brandeis, and, separately, Young at Rockefeller isolated the circadian rhythm genes.

For instance, jet lag is a effect of a temporary mismatch between the inner clock and the environment that occurs when people travel across several time zones.

The circadian rhythm is mostly endogenous: it is "performed" and regulated by chemical reactions that occur within the body's cells, using internal cues.

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Jeffrey C. Hall, 72, spent most of his career at Brandeis University in MA, where Michael Rosbash is a faculty member. It involves three genes, called period, timeless and doubletime, that generate proteins called PER, TIM and DBT. This provided insight into how an oscillation is adjusted to more closely match a 24-hour cycle.

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