Scientists Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young have landed themselves with a Nobel Prize win after gaining an understanding of circadian rhythms


For centuries humans have wondered about the mysteriousness of our biological clocks, and now the Nobel Assembly has awarded three scientists with Nobel prizes for discovering the mechanisms involved in circadian rhythms. Humanity has long made a connection between the rotation of planet earth and how all living things fall into a rhythm with its cycles. Now, scientists Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young have been recognized for their tireless decades of study of this phenomenon.



Circadian rhythms function in all living things: plants, animals, and humans. The three scientists were able to isolate a gene that controls this biological cycle. During the night, this gene activates a protein that begins to collect within the cell. However, during the day, this protein progressively deteriorates. The scientists tested fruit flies to come to their conclusions.


The human body is locked into a cycle of oneness with day and night

Our biological clock coordinates things such as metabolism, sleep, hormone levels, body temperature, and behaviors. Naturally, this explains why the phenomenon of jet lag throws everyone out of whack for a short period, at least until our cells readjust and regulate themselves to the new day and night cycles. On a more alarming level, a poorly aligned circadian rhythm can lead to many diseases.

The mysteriousness of the circadian rhythm was first officially studied scientifically by Jean Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, who observed the biological clock of the mimosa plant. He noted that during the day the leaves of the mimosa would open in choreography with the spray of the suns rays. However, at night, they would close tight, as if in sleep.

De Mairan sought to discover what would transpire if he were to place the mimosa in a darkened room for 24 hours. To his surprise and delight, the mimosa acted during the period it knew to be day, as though it were day. It’s leaves stretched out wide as though seeking sunlight. Furthermore, when the plant’s internal biological clock supposed it was night time, the leaves closed.





The biological clock of fruit flies

In the 1970s, two scientists, now both deceased, first explored the nature of the biological clock on fruit flies. However, Seymour Benzer and Ronald Konopka would only learn that mutations within an obscure gene would disrupt the circadian rhythm within the tiny insects. This hypothetical gene they named “period.” It wasn’t until 1984 that Hall, Rosbash, and Young would finally isolate this “period” gene to take the research further.

Ultimately, the scientists worked out that overnight, the PER protein, produced in the cytoplasm built up in the nucleus. This would block the activity of the “period” gene. And it wasn’t until 1994 that Young found the missing piece of the puzzle, of how did the PER protein get there.  Young discovered another gene, which he named “timeless” that encoded a protein that he named TIM. When TIM bound itself to PER, they could together enter the nucleus. This blocked the activity of the “period” gene.

After further questioning, Young discovered yet another gene, which he called “doubletime.” This gene encoded a protein he called DBT. DBT delayed the increase of PER. And the scientists continued to unravel the molecular mechanics on deeper and more profound levels.

Understanding circadian rhythm will help us to make leaps in bounds in many research fields. Research fields that seek to improve human physical, emotional and mental health.


References:, Independent, The Guardian

Image credits to William Warby / and