Body clock discovery wins Nobel Prize

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The 2017 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to three scientists for their discoveries about how internal clocks and biological rhythms govern human life.

The three US sceientists, Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young, won "for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm."

They used fruit flies to isolate a gene that controls the rhythm of a living organism’s daily life.

According to the researchers, all organisms, including humans, operate on 24-hour rhythms that control not only sleep and wakefulness but also physiology generally, including blood pressure and heart rate, alertness, body temperature and reaction time. The discovery helps explain why people suffer from jetlag or are at higher risk of certain disease.

"Using fruit flies as a model organism, this year's Nobel laureates isolated a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm," said the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet.

"They showed that this gene encodes a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night, and is then degraded during the day. Subsequently, they identified additional protein components of this machinery, exposing the mechanism governing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell. We now recognize that biological clocks function by the same principles in cells of other multicellular organisms, including humans.

"With exquisite precision, our inner clock adapts our physiology to the dramatically different phases of the day. The clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism."

Jeffrey Hall has worked at institutions from the University of Washington to the California Institute of Technology. 

Michael Rosbash, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, is at Brandeis University in Waltham.

Michael Young earned his doctoral degree at the University of Texas in Austin. He then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in Palo Alto before joining the faculty at the Rockefeller University in 1978.