Why do we do what we do? Why do we act as we do? Do we have an internal program that guides our way? Or is it a mixture of events that influence our character?
2017 Medicine Prize gives a big thumbs up to basic science, genetics at its pure, fully developed in the Drosophila fly.
Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young dedicated their research to the fundamental aspects of Circadian Rhythms: they discovered and studied the firsts “clock genes”.
An unexpected path to Medicine Prize
As early as in 1971 researchers in the field discovered that the gene named Period marks the cycle of Drosophila, if this gene is not working well, then the fly would have different pupal eclosion time, that is typically 24h (this is like the 9 months for humans). In 1980, Hall, Rosbash and Young cloned and sequenced this gene, starting a new era in circadian rhythm research.
Of course, the current model of circadian clockwork at the molecular level is a lot more complicated. Other genes are also involved, and they all work together like strings in a net.
Just like in the medium-sized world: the network is the key
It is fascinating to see how real basic research that may look so far away from reality can help us understand our personal needs, and get the highly desired Nobel Medicine Prize! Looks complicated? You may be even more confused to know that this aspect of our biology is controlled at such a microscopic level. Well, it is not as if these genes work alone. They need, of course, a lot of other “strings” pulling them (some may be under our control) like sunlight exposure or diet.
And what about us, humans?
Why do we care about the flies? Well, this 24h cycle is so convenient for research! You can see evolution happening in front of your own eyes. And it may sound weird, but at the gene level (that is like our basic instruction booklet) Drosophila and humans are very similar; as much as about 50 to 60 % of genes in humans have a “Drosophila” version.
We all know that some people work better at night, babies have their sleeping times (and your neighbour’s baby sleeps 12 hours on a row while yours won’t), and also we change this preferences during our lives, as we grow old. Would not it be wonderful, if we can have our schedule, according to our Circadian Rhythm? A lot of studies are pointing in this direction, allowing for example adolescents to sleep more in the mornings and arrive a bit later at school, because of the unique needs of an adolescent brain.
Sure we are a bit more complicated, more like a “clock shop” than just one clock alone… and this only makes it even more interesting! Undoubtedly more and more research is coming this way, especially now after this Nobel Medicine Prize! Looking forward to it!