The Nobel Prize in Medicine 2017 was awarded to three Americans for the discovery of key elements that regulate the body clock. The researchers unblocked the secret of why living organisms operate on a 24 hours cycle and require sleep, as well as elements of why living organisms and individual cells age. Their research may eventually have bold impact on longevity, health and well-being in society.
This Bold Glance outlines the highlights of their compelling research and its implications.
The researchers Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young are the joint winners of the Nobel. They used fruit flies for their research and set about to isolate the gene that controls daily biological patterns. Remarkably they discovered a single gene that controls the sleeping and waking cycle. The gene creates a protein that accumulates in cells during the night and breaks down during the day, thus creating the cycle of sleeping and waking.
They have discovered other proteins as well, that contribute to the performance of a feedback loop that maintains the system of biological functions such as waking and sleeping.With this information humankind may be able to control the sleeping and waking cycles. This would have life enhancing benefits to people who have trouble sleeping, but even more impactful it may hold the key to solving problems for people who work night shifts or have jet lag. Ultimately it may even help people to sleep less and be more productive throughout their lives. That would have bold impact and worldwide implications.
Their work in the sleeping and waking cycle also led to the discovery of regulatory molecular mechanisms that control lifespan. They discovered two components, one which extends lifespan and another which shortens it.
The researchers are situated in far flung universities. Hall, who is 72 was on the faculty at Brandeis for decades and has worked with University of Maine most recently. Rosbash, has also been at Brandeis as well as MIT and University of Edinburgh. Young was at Rockefeller University since 1978, after completing his postdoc at Standford.
Undoubtedly their work will change the way we live and work.