The Nobel Prize in Medicine for 2017 has been awarded to Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young for their discoveries about the body’s daily rhythm, or circadian rhythms. The American trio were recognised by the Nobel committee for being able to peek inside the ‘body’s biological clock’ and discover “how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronised with the Earth’s revolutions.” Through their research they showed that the particular gene “encodes a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night, and is then degraded during the day”.
The citation for the 9-million-kronor ($1.1 million) prize says that the researchers used fruit flies as a model organism and “isolated a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm”.
What is circardian rhythm?
Circadian rhythms, colloquially known as our biological clock, are the ways in which the body keeps tabs on the passing of a day, thus, affecting sleep, hormone levels, behaviour, metabolism and even body temperature. These rhythms show why disturbance in a particular pattern – such as lack of sleep due to jet lag or insomnia – could potentially have devastating consequences on the body and result in increased risk of many diseases.
This is particularly relevant after a leading sleep scientist claimed that lack of sleep is slowly killing us.
What have the researchers identified?
According to the Nobel committee’s citation, the researchers looked into the inner workings of the circardian rhythms and discovered that all kinds of life – plants and humans alike – regulate their biological clock with the help of the sun using ‘special technologies’ in the body. Using fruit flies, they isolated the gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm”.
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”. By using the same principles, the biological clocks of other multicellular organisms like human beings can also be identified. The discrepancy between this biological clock and external surroundings can adversely affect the well being of an organism. According to a report in The Guardian, the discovery of different genes and proteins by the team has aided the explanation of the workings of the self-regulating mechanism as well as the way light can synchronise the clock.
Using fruit flies as a model organism, this year’s Nobel Laureates isolated a gene that controls the daily biological rhythm. pic.twitter.com/9nFzxiLsDB
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 2, 2017
Robash is on the faculty at Brandeis University, Young at Rockefeller University and Hall is at the University of Maine. The prize was announced at the Nobel Forum at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. The winners have raised “awareness of the importance of a proper sleep hygiene,” Juleen Zierath of the Nobel Academy said.
[With inputs from Reuters]