Their first step, in 1984, was the isolation within the fruit-fly genome of a gene called period, which had previously been found to be important in controlling circadian rhythms.
For years now, scientists have believed that our body has some biological clock that responds to the rhythm of movements of our earth. In 1729, the French astronomer Jean Jacques d'Ortous de Mairan observed what happened to a mimosa plant when it was placed in constant darkness.
According to the Nobel committee's citation, the researchers looked into the inner workings of the circardian rhythms and discovered that all kinds of life - plants and humans alike - regulate their biological clock with the help of the sun using "special technologies" in the body.
Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash, at Brandeis University in Boston, and Michael Young at the Rockefeller University in NY, succeeded in isolating the period gene - already known to be associated with the circadian rhythm in fruit flies. Young provided the breakthrough in 1994, when he discovered what he called the timeless gene.
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Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash were then conducted work to understand how the wobble could be put in place and maintain over time.
Additionally, they were able to identify other protein components of this complex, biological machinery and expose the mechanism governing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell. The PER protein accumulates in the cell's nucleus, where the period gene activity is blocked. "It's good to have the attention on this kind of basic work", Rosbash told Reuters after winning the coveted award.
The three laureates pioneered efforts to elucidate molecular mechanisms that drive organisms' inner biological clocks. "You are kidding me", Rosbash said this morning after he was called and notified of the honor, Thomas Perlmann, the Nobel Commitee's secretary, told journalists this morning.
Since then, other researchers have identified additional genes involved in the cycle.
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Studies have indicated that a chronic misalignment between a person's lifestyle and the circadian clock- when doing irregular shift work, for example - might be associated with an increased risk for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, metabolic disorders and inflammation.
Here's what Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young did. The interaction of these proteins with each other and the genes lead to a regular cycle to which other biological processes synchronize. Or more technically, it is the 24 hour internal clock running between your sleep and awake times. Circadian rhythms adapt the workings of the body to different phases of the day, influencing sleep, behavior, hormone levels, body temperature and metabolism.
The Nobel prize committee said their findings had "vast implications for our health and wellbeing".
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