Three US scientists win Nobel Prize in Medicine

Three US scientists win Nobel Prize in Medicine

Young received the prestigious prize for research detailing "discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm", which is fundamental to human life.

Circadian rhythms tie biological ups and downs in plants and animals to the daily rotation of the Earth.

Three Americans shared the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology, which like the other prizes now amounts to SEK 9 million. The leaves of the mimosa plant open towards the sun during day but close at dusk.

Our biological clocks help regulate a large proportion of our genes, as well as critical functions like behaviour, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism.

By testing on fruit flies, this year's Nobel laureates isolated a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm in living organisms. Young, a competitor of Rosbash and Hall, also sequenced the gene around the same time. By examining the internal workings of fruit flies, scientists determined that the gene being analyzed encoded a protein that accumulated in cells at night, then degraded during the day.

Hall and Rosbash finally sequenced the gene in 1984, as did Young.

Consequently additional protein components of this machinery were also identified by them that, in turn, revealed the mechanism that governs "the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell".

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The Brandeis researchers hypothesized that a feedback loop might be governing this gene-protein system: When concentrations of PER climbed high enough, they shut down the activity of period.

Rosbach told the Associated Press "I'm still a little overwhelmed", adding "I stand on the shoulders of giants".

The three laureates pioneered efforts to elucidate molecular mechanisms that drive organisms' inner biological clocks.

Hall and Rosbash, both then at Brandeis University in MA, and Young of Rockefeller University did research that found an elaborate internal clock of genes and the cellular functions that DNA controls working together in much the same way the gears and springs in an old-fashioned timepiece do, with interconnected functions controlling one another. Such 24-hour patterns are called circadian rhythms.

The inner clock adapts our physiology to the different phases of the day, and a mismatch between our external environment and our body clock can affect our wellbeing - think jet lag.

Michael W. Young, 68, is a faculty member at Rockefeller University in NY. But how could this gene influence the circadian rhythm?

"I really had trouble even getting my shoes on this morning". Or more technically, it is the 24 hour internal clock running between your sleep and awake times.

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