Three scientists from the U.S. were awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The research concerned the synchronisation of the organism with the circadian rhythm on Earth.
Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbach of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massatchusetts, as well as Michael Young of The Rockefeller University in New York City co-worked on the genes responsible for the correlation of basic circadian clock of the organism. Specific sequences were responsible for encoding special proteins that controlled the day/night cycle in plants, fungi, protozoans and animals. Throughout the recent years of their research, the scientists discovered that the circadian clock is not solely related to the sleep cycle, but also to metabolism and the functioning of brain. The presence of inner biological clock was observed as early as in the 18th century, when Jean Jacques d'Ortous de Mairan, an astronomer, demonstrated the opening of leaves at dawn, as correspondent to their closing at dusk, with the process repeating itself in a cyclical way even when plants were not exposed to any source of light. This thesis was confirmed by later observations conducted on genetically modified fruit flies.
The origins of research awarded with the Nobel Prize date back to 1984. Hall, Rosbash and Young demonstrated that a protein called PER functioned in accordance to a 24-hour cycle, reaching the peak of its activity at night. It was suspected that the biological clock was driven by a feedback loop, while the scientists discovered yet one more clock-related gene in 1994, as followed by discoveries of 6 successive genes of the kind, affecting the day-and-night cycle of the organism together. Presently, it is known that the circadian mechanism also regulates metabolism while the circadian clock is a fundamental proces itself. It affects the consumption and storage of energy, blood pressure, body temperature, inflammations and even the functioning of brain. Due to this, a given time of day may both influence the effectiveness of medicines or effects of the application thereof. The lack of proper synchronisation of one's biological clock with the environment (e.g. as resulting from multiple-shift work) plays an important role in mood disorders and the risk of contracting cancer.
The prize came as a surprise to Roshbash who had not expected such recognition. The scientists have received 9 million Swedish Kronor for their discovery (namely, approximately USD 1.1 million) and the total amount is inteded to be shared between them. The amount was higher by 12.5% with regard to the prizes awarded the previous year.