Nobel Prize: Biological Clocks & Human Biology

This year, the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three scientists who discovered a biological clock that determines how our internal “daily” biological clock works.  This Nobel Prize winning biological clock regulates our daily cycle between being asleep and awake.  What scientists are learning is that there are a number of biological clocks at work governing our human biology. One only needs to be reminded of the familiar adage that a girlfriend or wife might say regarding the need to get married had have children: “My clock is ticking!”

According the the Nobel Prize and the scientists that discovered the biological roots of our daily circadian clock:

Life on Earth is adapted to the rotation of our planet. For many years we have known that living organisms, including humans, have an internal, biological clock that helps them anticipate and adapt to the regular rhythm of the day. But how does this clock actually work? Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings. Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.

These scientists were able to isolate a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm using fruit flies. They were able to demonstrate that a gene encodes a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night, and is then degraded during the day. Subsequently, they identified additional protein components of this machinery, exposing the mechanism governing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell. Because of their work, we now recognize that the biological clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism.  I tend to think of this daily clock the same way we observe flowers, whose petals close at night – the biology is programmed to respond the time of day.

So next time you feel uneasy after traveling across several time zones, you can know that the feeling is the result of a temporary mismatch between your external environment and your internal biological clock. The scientists found “indications” that chronic misalignment of your your lifestyle and rhythms dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with an increased risk of disease.

Research on biological “clocks” have been going on for some time now.  We now know that disease results from malfunctions in our biology.  The fact is, one researcher, Dr. Steve Horvath, has proved that the accumulation of these malfunctions gives rise to another biological clock that, it turns out is predictive of all cause mortality.  Let me be the first one to promote the notion that the discovery of Dr. Steve Horvath’s biological clock has even greater implications to science than this years recipients of the 2017 Nobel prize.  I am not a scientist, and I in no means suggest that theirs is an accomplishment not at all worthy of the prize.  All I am suggesting, that as a layman, the discovery of epigenetic bio-markers that indicate the early onset of a biological aging clock that in-fact leads to all-cause mortality seems far more important than the cause and effect relationship between the laggard feeling I have before I get my cup of coffee.

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