By Amruth Chinnappa
Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young have won the Nobel Prize in the field of medicine this year. Their study of the important gears in Circadian clocks of animals has earned them recognition worldwide and a sum of 1.1 million dollars.
Cells working in synchronisation
The human body is at all times a hive of activity, with millions of interlinked processes occurring inside. Billions of cells die every day with billions more taking their place. All these cells can be thought of as miniature worlds unto themselves, playing out their own unique lives as cogs and wheels to enable thought, speech and action in a human. They respond with uncanny regularity to stimuli from within the body and outside, to develop behavioural patterns called Circadian rhythms. These patterns are prevalent in every process, from the division of cells to the body’s sleep cycle. Circadian clocks, networks of genes and proteins which governs daily rhythms and cycles, serve to adapt or anticipate changes in the light and temperature due to the earth’s rotation.
A network of interconnected proteins
Results from studies conducted on Drosophila Melanogaster a.k.a. the common fruit fly, correspond to a high level with those obtained from a human. Therefore, they are an active part of gene research worldwide. Rosbach and Hall identified ‘Period’, a gene when mutated, lead the flies to move around at abnormal times of the day. Michael Young had, by this time, deciphered the composition of this gene independently and this led to a collaboration between the scientists. Further study determined that period was active at night during which time, its messenger RNA would head to the cytoplasm of a cell, in order to produce a protein named PER. After a sufficient amount of protein is built up, it enters the nucleus and works to restrict the further production of Period. The protein dissipates during the day and the process continues the following night again. Young further discovered other Circadian clockworks called, ‘timeless’ which produces a protein named TIM and ‘double-time’ which produces DBT. The protein TIM works in tandem with PER to stop any further production of the period gene in the system while DBT decides the pace of the reaction.
Coordination of the brain and the body cells
These protein interactions work independently without any master control system at play. Two different cells responsible for tracking two different stimuli work with each other to set up a biological clock. Scientists have devised a method termed Bayesian Inference to determine the predilection of the brain to behave upon exposure to such stimuli. In case of any mismatch in the signals due to disruption, the body undergoes discomfiture which is usually called as jet lag. The mismatch in the production of TIM and PER leads to the decrease in the production of CHYC and P53 which are essential compounds for cell growth and division.
Understanding diseases in the process
A deep understanding of the natural rhythm of processes may lead to the tackling of serious health conditions. A lack of sleep results in the hindrance of many systems of the body and leads to a higher prevalence of depression and anxiety in humans. Narcolepsy, which is characterized by high levels of fatigue and drowsiness during the day has been found to be affected by hypocretin. A lack of it increases the severity of this condition. So, an addition of hypocretin at certain times of the day could help in treating it. The rapid division of malignant cells is the cause of tumours. A targeted medicine which slows down the rate of division can be an effective source of relief for the afflicted.The next groundbreaking discovery might not be on the surface of the moon but rather in the human body which remains a constant wonder to be delved into!
Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt
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