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Biological Clock gene

Unraveling the Discovery of 2017 Nobel Prize – Know Your Biological Clock!

Have you ever observed the rhythmic pattern followed by our body in response to the day-night cycle? Do you know just like a physical watch on the wall, our body also has a clock? Yes, we do have an inherent biological clock popularly defined as Circadian Rhythm. In 2017, the trio of scientists – Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young have unraveled the entire mechanism of working of our circadian rhythm.

There is no doubt to say that we are living in an era where long workings hours, poor sleeping patterns, excessive exposure to phone screens are common. But do you know these imbalances in your daily activities can interfere with your biological clock? The discovery of underlying mechanism guiding by the trio of scientists cannot be more timelier. In light of this, the article shares important insights about your biological clock.

The Path to Discovery

For long scientists were aware of the inherent biological clock organisms have. One of the earliest studies was done by a scientist named Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, who studied the mimosa plants. Earlier it was thought that organisms respond to the sunlight to follow the day-night cycle but he showed that there exists an internal response mechanism irrespective of light exposure. He performed an experiment where he observed that the mimosa plants open their leaves during day time and closes it during night time, even when the plants were kept in darkness. This showed that the plants have some internal mechanism to tune their response to the day-night cycle without even reacting with light. This study intrigued many other scientists to study the response and underlying pathways.

In 1984, the pioneers of circadian rhythm Sir Jeffrey Hall and Michael Roshbash unraveled the underlying pathway that guides the response in organisms for the day-night cycle. They found that there exists a gene named “Period” (PER) gene which plays a crucial role in the response mechanism. PER gene encodes for the period protein which is synthesized during night time and breaks down during day time.

You must be wondering how exactly this mechanism work? How protein synthesis does take place? And how does it break down on its own? Well, the answer to these queries was shared in the work of the scientist Michael Young in 1994. He showed that there exists a feedback loop which guides the automatic on and off of the PER protein build up in the cells. The study showed the presence of another clock gene which codes for TIM protein. When the PER protein builds up in the cells the TIM protein interacts with it and forms a TIM/PER complex which activates the cascade of signaling pathways. These signals enter the nucleus and shut down the PER gene. Many other studies have been done by scientists, which showcases the role of more genes which help cells respond to day and night cycle by tuning to the amount of light the body receives.

Why It Is Important To Know Your Biological Clock?

Research studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between our circadian clock and various biological factors such as hormones, biomolecules, blood pressure, immune response and more. Knowing your biological clock and following the right pattern can have many health implications.

Some studies have found that working against your normal biological clock for long can lead to stress build-up and in severe cases leads conditions like cancer. The in-depth understanding of such health risk is still under study but some research suggests that altered biological clock suppresses the timely release of hormones like melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone released by the pineal gland of our brain, known to play a critical role in the sleep-wake cycle. Any misbalance in this hormone results in the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) which in turn damages the cells.

One of the most common examples of disrupted circadian rhythm is “Jet Lag”. Most of us who have experienced the jet lags must be well aware of the subsequent health issues we face. It occurs when our body’s biological clock goes out of sync due to the changed time zones. However, these conditions can be handled if you know your biological clock. But how can someone know their biological clock? Well, there are certain genetic tests in the market that help you understand your circadian rhythm.

Biological Clock

Genetic Test to Know Biological Clock

There are some companies in the market which helps you know about your biological clock. The basic idea or principle behind a genetic test is the use of SNP’s (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism). We all have 98% of similar genetic information, it is these single nucleotide mutation in our genes which make us different.  The three common variants that human carries for CLOCK genes are TT, CT, and CC (T= Thymine, C=Cytosine nucleotides). It is observed that people having genetic mutations with genotypes TT have neutral metabolic activity throughout the day. However, people with CT and CC genotypes have metabolic activity higher in the evening. Knowing your biological clock can help you manage your health condition better.

Way Ahead

The discovery of circadian rhythm was indeed worth for noble prize. The various associated pathways and underlying biological factors which wire it to understand human health are vibrant. The understanding of these pathways is still in the early stages of research. However, efforts are being taken across the globe to dive deep at the molecular level and unravel the associated patterns. The contribution of Sir Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young will be remembered and let’s look together for more such work that helps us understand ourselves at the molecular level.

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