Ingrid Martinez

Biology 1010- Essay

Published by Ingrid Martinez on Tuesday, October 24, 2017.

The Noble Prize Winners of 2017 and their Discoveries of our Biological Clocks

We have all heard these two words: Biological clocks. We use this phrase when talking about the precise timing of reactions happening in our bodies. For instance, waking up at the same time every single day even when you want to sleep in, getting hungry around the same time, the most exhausting time of the day, etc…We all know about this inner clock, but for most of us, it’s just a vague idea. Before the seventies, scientists speculated that there might be a microscopic biological machinery controlling the circadian system, or the twenty four hour body clock. The circadian system, is what’s responsible for our feeling of an “inner biological clock.” Since then, scientist have discovered and isolated the actual gene that is responsible for the clock like workings of our bodies. Thanks to the work of Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young, we now know the exact workings of these microscopic mechanisms. These scientists, were the recipients of the 2017 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

Plants, animals and humans modify their biological daily patterns to fit with earth’s revolutions. We have this twenty four hour cycle that is endogenously produced, but it’s also influenced and controlled by sunlight and temperature. These cycles help us determine when to sleep, eat, slow down, etc… The work of Hall, Roshbash, and Young helps explain how plants, animals and humans synchronize their circadian rhythms to earth’s revolutions, starting with fruit flies.

In the 1970s, two scientist by the name of Seymor Benzer and Ronald Konopa, identified the gene in fruit flies responsible for controlling the daily biological rhythm. They called this gene, the period gene. Then in 1984, Jeffery Hall and Michael Rosbash, in close collaboration with Michael Young were successful in isolating the period gene. Since then, Hall and Rosebash have discovered PER, the protein encoded by the period gene. These protein levels regulate themselves over a 24 hour cycle synchronizing with the circadian rhythm. These discoveries came as a results of their hypothesis; they speculated that the PER protein blocked the activity of the period gene. They also discovered that PER accumulated during the night, and degraded during the day.. PER protein can prevent it’s own synthesis by what the scientist call an: inhibitor feedback loop- this is what helps the regulation levels. But not all the molecular components were present for this process to be able to work. In 1994, Michael Young discovered a second clock gene: Timeless. This was the missing puzzle piece needed for their inhibitor feedback idea; The Timeless gene encodes the needed protein (TIM) required for a normal circadian rhythm. The process goes like this: When TIM bounds to PER, they are able to enter the cell nucleus, where they block the period gene activity to close the inhibitory feedback loop. The question of what is responsible for controlling the frequency of the oscillation? Michael Young went on to find yet another gene called Double-time (DBT). DBT protein delays the accumulation of PER protein adjusting for the different phases in the day to match a twenty four hour cycle. Our biological clocks impact our physiology in many ways. When our circadian rhythm is dysfunctional, it can lead to many complications such as sleep disorders, it can affect memory formation, it can cause depression, etc… the work and dedication of these three scientists has opened the door to a new research field ready to make new discoveries and help us in the pursuit of our physical well being.


Reading this study, shed a light of evidence on an idea, that on a day to day basis seems so vague to a lot of us.The inner workings of our biological clock, is an actual “machine” that regulates itself. The way that I can see this machine working inside of even me, is my inability to sleep past a certain time now that I’m thirty-five, whereas in my younger years, it was not an issue to sleep in if I needed to after a late night.

I have a deep appreciation for the dedication and passion scientist like Hall, Rosbash, and Young have for the quest of finding answers to these great scientific questions. In this particular case, the beginnings of this study date back to 1970! It took passion, perseverance, patience and multiple failures I’m sure, for these scientists to unravel the complexities of our bodies which led them to these discoveries. Three genes, hidden in the vast universe of our bodies.

In my opinion, this study is important because it opens the door for more questions to be asked, and more researched to be done. If you have a machine that breaks down or is malfunctioning, the only way to fix it, is to pull it apart and understand how it works. Once you understand how the machine works, then you can begin to find the solutions on how to fix it. That analogy helps me understand the importance of the study. The research paper tells us that having a well regulated circadian clock, helps us regulate sleep patterns, feeding behaviors (I know bad sleep attributes to obesity), hormone release, regulate our blood pressure and body temperature. It also talks about a dysfunction leading problems of metabolism, depression, cognitive function, and the list continues; my point being that the future developing of this study is to find the ways in which to fix, maintain and better care for our circadian clock machine.


“The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – Advanced Information: Discoveries of Molecular Mechanisms Controlling the Circadian Rhythm”. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 23 Oct 2017.