Why your body clock is worth £825,000

Are you a night owl? A perky morning person, or worse, in a relationship with someone who is? Someone who just doesn’t get the importance of those three little words — 5 more minutes…

What is it that makes you like this? What exactly is your body clock?

Three Americans Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash (Brandeis University) and Michael Young (Rockefeller University) are the people to tell you. They just won the 2017 Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology and a share of £825,000.

For years, they’ve been studying ‘circadian rhythms’, the biological body clock processes that influence and prepare our physiology for changes in the day. From sleep to hormone levels to metabolism, our body clock regulates them all and if there is a disconnect between what’s happening outside to what’s happening in our bodies inside, it can all get — in the most scientific of terms — a bit messy.

What the very clever and committed Nobel prize winning trio have done is provide the reasons why.

It was Hall and Roshbash who discovered that a particular gene (the memorably named ‘period’ gene) encodes a protein called ‘PER’ which builds up during the night and degrades during the day in line with our circadian rhythms. Hall and Roshbash had a theory or two about why this might be, but it was Young who demonstrated why it is that PER goes up and down.

Through his identification of another body clock gene — ‘timeless’ — Young showed that the normcore christened ‘TIM’ protein it produces, gets with PER protein and together they move in on a cell’s nucleus and close poor PER gene down. It’s the fluctuation of protein DBT from the ‘doubletime’ gene (another identified by the punning Young), which delays the accumulation of the PER protein that accounts for the swing in its levels during the 24-hour circadian cycle.

All this gleaned from studying fruit flies.

Fruitflies having fun with fruit

These discoveries have spurred on other scientists to attribute yet more genes to the body clock (and more fun with three letter abbreviations and acronyms — or should I say ABB and ACR?)

This means a wealth of research exists to support a growing industry around health, wellbeing and the impact the environment has on our biological body clocks.

The research plainly shows the complexity of our finely tuned circadian rhythms and that from jet lag, to shift work, to reading well past your bedtime on blue light emitting devices, our clocks don’t like being toyed with. This can be detrimental to our wellbeing and potentially link to an increased risk for various diseases.

Key takeout

Biological clocks are a thing. Sensitively attuned to our environment and the earth’s rotation, we should each listen to our own clock and basically do all we can not to **** it up.

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