Nobel Prize in medicine: Now we know who's controlling our body clock

American scientists - Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young - bring us the answer.

 |  2-minute read |   02-10-2017
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Ever wondered why we wake up in the morning and sleep through the night, or why we are more vulnerable to heart attacks in the morning?

The Nobel Prize in medicine for 2017 has been awarded for answering precisely these questions.

The Nobel prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to three Americans - Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young - for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm, simply put, the body clock.

What's circadian rhythm

It's a roughly 24-hour cycle in the physiological processes of living beings, including plants and animals.

According to the Nobel committee’s citation, the group were recognised for their discoveries explaining "how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronised with the Earth’s revolutions".

The trio used fruit flies to isolate a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm. The scientists showed that this gene encodes a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night, and degrades during the day.

The trio then identified the other protein components of this machinery, exposing the process governing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell. 

What's the big deal

They proved that biological clocks function because of the same principles in cells of other multi-cellular organisms, including humans.

The team also established the mechanism by which light can synchronise the clockwork.

The work revolves around three genes dubbed “period”, “timeless” and "doubletime".

A large proportion of our genes are regulated by the biological clock and so carefully calibrated circadian rhythm adapts our physiology to the different phases of the day.

The winners have raised "awareness of the importance of a proper sleep hygiene", according to Juleen Zierath of the Nobel academy.

Why do we even need to know that

Understanding of the clockwork is important because it regulates critical functions such as behaviour, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism.

The Nobel Assembly, in its prize statement, said: "Our wellbeing is affected when there is a temporary mismatch between our external environment and this internal biological clock, for example when we travel across several time zones and experience 'jet lag.'"

"There are also indications that chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner time keeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases."

So, next time somebody asks you if you are not worried about the biological clock ticking, you won't be completely clueless about "resetting" it.

Also read: Hypocrisy of awarding Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi

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