Nobel prize for medicine awarded for insights into internal biological clock

825,000 prize shared between American scientists Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young for work on the internal clock of living organismsLive reaction to medicine Nobel prize announcement

The Nobel prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded a trio of American scientists for their discoveries on the molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythms in other words, the 24-hour body clock.

According to the Nobel committees citation, Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young were recognised for their discoveries explaining how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronised with the Earths revolutions.

The team identified a gene within fruit flies that controls the creatures daily rhythm. The gene encodes a protein within the cell during the night which then degrades during the day.

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October 2, 2017

When there is a mismatch between this internal clock and the external surroundings, it can affect the organisms wellbeing for example, in humans, when we experience jet lag.

The teams discoveries of various genes and proteins involved in the internal clock helped to explain how the self-regulating mechanism works and adapts to different conditions, as well as the mechanism by which light can synchronise the clock.

All three winners are from the US. Hall, 72, has retired but spent the majority of his career at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachussetts, where fellow laureate Rosbash, 73, is still a faculty member. Young, 68, works at Rockefeller University in New York.

Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute, who shared the Nobel prize in 2001 for research on the cell cycle, said the work was important for the basic understanding of life.

Every living organism on this planet responds to the sun, he said. All plant and also animal behaviour is determined by the light-dark cycle. We on this planet are slaves to the sun. The circadian clock is embedded in our mechanisms of working, our metabolism, its embedded everywhere, its a real core feature for understanding life.

We are increasingly becoming aware that there are implications for human disease, Nurse added. There is some evidence that treatment of disease can be influenced by circadian rhythms too. People have reported that when you have surgery or when you have a drug can actually influence things. Its still not clear, but there will almost certainly be some implications for the treatment of disease too.

I think it is a fantastic development, said professor Hugh Piggins, an expert on circadian rhythms at the University of Manchester. But, he added, it was not unexpected, pointing out the work had been tipped for the win for several years.

Bambos Kyriacou, professor of behavioural genetics at the University of Leicester, who is friends with all three winners and a former colleague of two, described the laureates as being very different. Jeff [Hall] is eccentric brilliant but eccentric, he said. Michael [Rosbash], there is no stopping him he is just going 100%, he will die with his boots on in the lab, and Michael Young is the most charming, nicest one of them because he is polite and pleasant, whereas the other two arent like that, they are just crazy.

The winners will share a prize of 9m Swedish kronor (825,000), and each receive a medal engraved with their name.

Last year the prize was won by Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese cell biologist who unpicked the mechanisms by which the body break downs and recycles components of cells a process that guards against various diseases, including cancer and diabetes.

In total, 107 Nobel prizes for physiology or medicine have been won by 211 scientists since 1901, with just 12 awarded to women. Nonetheless, it remains the science award with the highest such tally the physics prize has only been awarded, so far, to two women: Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert Mayer.

This years winners of the physics, chemistry, literature and peace prizes are scheduled to be announced over the coming days. The economics prize will be announced on Monday 9 October.

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