The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2017 has been won by three American Scientists Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young jointly for their work on biological clocks. All living organisms including the teeny-tiny bacteria are known to be controlled by an internal 24-hour body clock that is in sync with light-dark cycle of the sun (i.e. the Earth’s revolutions). This year’s Nobel Laureates “were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings,” the Nobel Prize Committee said in a press release.
It was in 1984 the trio succeeded in isolating the gene period from fruit flies, earlier discovered by another scientist Seymour Benzer and his student Ronald Konopka in the 1970s. To understand how this clock works the scientists did further research and found that levels of PER, the protein encoded by the gene period would build up during the night and reduce during the day. The PER levels thus synchronize with the circadian rhythm.
Other discoveries made by the laureates explained how circadian rhythms are generated and maintained. They also discovered proteins which regulate the activity of the period gene. All these discoveries have been groundbreaking in the field of chronobiology, having significance in health research.
Researchers working on chronobiology have found that eating patterns affect our health; especially eating late at night seems to be extremely problematic as our bodies can’t cope with glucose load from food consumed in the evening as our body tends to produce most insulin in the morning. Emerging work suggests that the circadian rhythm influences drug metabolism as well. The effectiveness of a drug might be controlled by the time when a drug is taken.
It has also been found that each of us has a unique chronotype which is genetically driven and is responsible for an individual’s sleep pattern thus distinguishing people into “morning people” and “night owls”. Shifting a person’s sleep cycle even by couple of hours has several effects, to explain these researchers have coined the term “social jet lag”.
Thus in humans, throughout the day, various activities from the sleep-wake cycle to eating are foretold by the biological clocks which regulate hormone levels, temperature, and metabolism. This shows our health and well-being is completely dependent on these circadian rhythms.
Article by Srividya.