Nobel prize winner: What they discovered and why it matters

Today, the “beautiful mechanism” of the body clock, and the group of cells in our brain where it all happens, have shot to prominence. The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their work on describing the molecular cogs and wheels inside our biological clock.

In the 18th century an astronomer by the name of Jean Jacques d’Ortuous de Marian noted his plants opening and closing their leaves with the cycle of light and dark, with the leaves opening towards the sun. Being an inquisitive chap, he placed the plants in constant darkness and observed that the daily opening and closing of the leaves continued even in the absence of sunlight – indicative of an internal clock.

Subsequent work by others also showed innate daily rhythms in other animals and plants, but the location and inner workings of the biological timing system remained a mystery.

The discovery of a misfiring gene that resulted in disrupted daily rhythms in fruit flies (the unsung heroes of the story) gave the first hint. Over several years, Hall, Rosbash and Young ...

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