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. For example, we know women have multiple fertility clocks involving a monthly menstruation and child bearing i.e., “My clock is ticking!”

According to 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.

The scientists were able to isolate genes that control 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 a daily biological clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism. 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, 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. This may be why getting enough sleep is so important to our health.

Research into biological “clocks” continues provide insights into human health. One researcher, Dr. Steve Horvath, has proved that there is another biological clock that is predictive of our lifespan.  Let me be the first to nominate Horvath for the Nobel Prize for discovering a biological clock that has far greater implications to science than this years recipients of the 2017 Nobel Prize. Dr. Horvaths’s discovery of a  biological mechanisms that is reflecting or driving mechanisms of our lifespan seems of far greater importance than why I need my morning cup of coffee.