The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been jointly awarded to US geneticists Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the internal circadian biological clock which governs the wake-sleep cycles of most living organisms.
The three winners of the Nobel prize will share the prize sum of 9 million Swedish kronor (£825,000), and will each be given a medal engraved with their name.
Life on Earth is adapted to the rotation of our planet so all living things have an internal, biological clock that that helps them anticipate and adapt to the regular rhythm of the day.
The Nobel Assembly stated that the discoveries of the three scientists explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.
Hall, 72, Rosbash, 73, and Young, 68 used fruit flies as a model organism to isolate a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm.
“They showed that this gene encodes a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night and is then degraded during the day,” said the Nobel Assembly. “Subsequently they identified additional protein components of this machinery, exposing the mechanism governing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell.”
Biological clocks function by the same principles in cells of other multicellular organisms, including humans.
They regulate vital, biological functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism.
This is also what causes “jet lag” when we travel between different time zones as there is a temporary mismatch between our external environment and this internal biological clock. Chronic misalignment between lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is also thought to increase risk for various diseases.
Last year, Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi was given the prize for his discoveries on autophagy, a process through which cells recycle their content or “eat themselves.” Disorders in autophagy are thought to play an important role in aging and a variety of diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes.
The 2017 Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace and Economics will be announced from 3-9 October.