Body clocks, gravitational waves and studying protein structure

NOBEL week, a round of lectures and ceremonies held every December in Stockholm, which climaxes with the award of the prizes themselves and a subsequent banquet, is a leisurely affair. Since prizewinners come from all over the world, that is a good thing. It gives them time to recover from their jet lag before they meet the King of Sweden, and the medals and cheques are handed over. This year, three of the prizewinners may particularly appreciate that, for they are some of the scientists who have helped explain why jet lag exists in the first place.

Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young are, between them, responsible for working out how the endogenous clocks of fruit flies—and, by extension, of other organisms—run what is known as the circadian rhythm. This is the internal cycle (circa is the Latin for “about” and dies the Latin for “day”) that matches the body’s physiology to the alternation of light and darkness caused by Earth’s rotation. It controls, among other things, sleep patterns. Hence the discovery, once jet engines made rapid travel across time zones possible, that someone flying from, say, London to New York, will take several days to adjust to New York solar time.

Dr Hall and Dr Rosbash worked at Brandeis University, in Massachusetts. Dr Young…Continue reading

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