Researchers publish first working model that explains how biological clocks work

February 12, 2007

Science has known for decades that biological clocks govern the behavior of everything from humans to lowly bread mold. These ticking timekeepers hold the key to many diseases, annoy passengers on intercontinental flights and can mean life or death for small creatures trying to survive in nature.

Despite the importance of biological clocks, their mechanisms have remained unclear. Now, a team of researchers from the University of Georgia has produced the first working model that explains how biological clocks work.

"When the clock goes awry in mammals, it can lead to many diseases, ranging from cancer and sleep disorders to heart and lung disease," said Jonathan Arnold, a professor in the department of genetics and leader of the research. "It is very important that we know how the clock works at the molecular level."

The research will be published this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Because of the importance of biological clocks to survival and health, evolution has built them into an astoundingly diverse array of organisms, including bacteria and humans. These clocks make it possible for organisms to "tell time," even in the absence of such stimuli as temperature changes or daylight.

The UGA team discovered how three genes in Neurospora crassa—bread mold—make such a clock tick at the molecular level. The paper in PNAS describes how to identify genetic networks and show how the tools of systems biology can yield insights into what makes the clock tick.

"Much of what we know about the biological clock comes from the study of Neurospora," said Arnold, "so the insights on this clock mechanism are likely to provide insights into clocks of other organisms."

The discovery also has broad implications for understanding biochemical signaling and other regulatory processes in cells, said Arnold.

Before this research, there has been little experimental support for any of the many existing models of the biological clock. The UGA team studied actions of three genes in Neurospora: white-collar-1, white-collar-2 and frequency. The team found that the products of these three genes constitute the building blocks of a biological clock. The discovery crosses species boundaries, since human beings have a gene analogous to white-collar-1.

A number of human diseases are associated with genes under control of the biological clock. For instance, a gene called PAI-1 is involved with early-morning heart attacks. Another gene called DBP affects sleep cycles. Both are controlled by clock genes.

"One of the most interesting parts of the research is that the biological clock shows how a complex trait can emerge from the interaction of even a small number of gene regulatory elements," said Arnold.

Source: University of Georgia

Explore further: Research shows biological clocks could improve brain cancer treatment

Related Stories

Research shows biological clocks could improve brain cancer treatment

January 10, 2018
Biological clocks throughout the body play a major role in human health and performance, from sleep and energy use to how food is metabolized and even stroke severity. Now, Texas A&M University researchers found that circadian ...

Study: Sleeping sickness not just a sleeping disorder

January 4, 2018
An international study from the Instituto de Medicina Molecular shows one of Africa's most lethal diseases is actually a circadian rhythm disorder caused by the acceleration of biological clocks controlling a range of vital ...

Cancer overrides the circadian clock to survive

December 28, 2017
Tumor cells use the unfolded protein response to alter circadian rhythm, which contributes to more tumor growth, Hollings Cancer Center researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) find. A key part of the ...

Reduced sunlight may contribute to winter weight gain

January 10, 2018
We may have a new reason, in addition to vitamin D generation, to bask in a little sunshine.

Improved blood stabilization should expand use of circulating tumor cell profiling

January 8, 2018
A new blood stabilization method, developed at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Engineering in Medicine (MGH-CEM), significantly prolongs the lifespan of blood samples for microfluidic sorting and transcriptome ...

Can road salt and other pollutants disrupt our circadian rhythms?

January 4, 2018
Every winter, local governments across the United States apply millions of tons of road salt to keep streets navigable during snow and ice storms. Runoff from melting snow carries road salt into streams and lakes, and causes ...

Recommended for you

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

The HLF gene protects blood stem cells by maintaining them in a resting state

January 17, 2018
The HLF gene is necessary for maintaining blood stem cells in a resting state, which is crucial for ensuring normal blood production. This has been shown by a new research study from Lund University in Sweden published in ...

Magnetically applied MicroRNAs could one day help relieve constipation

January 17, 2018
Constipation is an underestimated and debilitating medical issue related to the opioid epidemic. As a growing concern, researchers look to new tools to help patients with this side effect of opioid use and aging.

Researchers devise decoy molecule to block pain where it starts

January 16, 2018
For anyone who has accidentally injured themselves, Dr. Zachary Campbell not only sympathizes, he's developing new ways to blunt pain.

Scientists unleash power of genetic data to identify disease risk

January 16, 2018
Massive banks of genetic information are being harnessed to shed new light on modifiable health risks that underlie common diseases.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.