The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has awarded the first prize of the year. The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young, for their work in the 1980s that led to the discovery of the genes that drive the circadian rhythm in living organisms.

The work of this year's Nobel laureates began in 1984. Earlier research had identified a gene named "period" that seemed to be responsible for regulating an organism's daily cycles, but Hall, Rosbash and Young set out to determine just how our biological clocks function.

Studying fruit flies, the team found that period encodes for a protein called PER, which accumulates overnight and gradually degrades during the day. It appeared that the higher the level of PER in a cell, the less would be produced, creating an inhibitory feedback loop that essentially allowed PER to regulate its own levels throughout the day.

Later work by the researchers uncovered other genes that play key roles in the cycle. A second clock gene, dubbed "timeless", encoded for a protein called TIM that binds to PER, and together they enter the cell nucleus. There, the duo block the activity of the period gene, which slows the production of more PER proteins. And finally, a third gene called "doubletime" was found to encode for the protein DBT, which delays PER's accumulation and synchronizes the circadian rhythm to the familiar 24-hour cycle.

The work of Hall, Rosbash and Young has since developed into a wide field of research on our biological clocks. Building on their findings, more recent studies have found that all mammalian genes are regulated by the circadian rhythm, insomnia can be the result of genetic mutations, and stimulating certain neurons could act as a "reset button" to get us back in sync, potentially treating jet lag.

Nobel Prizes in other fields will be awarded throughout the week.

Source: Nobel Prize

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