Three Americans received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for their work on the body’s circadian rhythms, or “body clock.”
Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young shared the 9-million-kronor ($1.1 million) prize for isolating a gene that controls the human body’s normal daily biological rhythm, according to the citation. They were “were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings.”
Hall has been associated with the University of Maine, Rosbash is a faculty member of Brandeis University, and Young is at Rockefeller University, ABC News reports.
Circadian rhythms are responsible for the body’s functions at different phases throughout the day, influencing sleep, behavior, hormones, body temperature and metabolism.
Juleen Zierath of the Nobel academy said that the laureates have raised “awareness of the importance of a proper sleep hygiene.”
The scientists’ research goes all the way back to 1984, when the trio isolated the “period gene” in fruit flies. Hall and Rosbash found that a protein in the gene accumulated overnight and degraded during the day. Ten years later, Young also found another “clock gene.”
“The paradigm-shifting discoveries by the laureates established key mechanisms for the biological clock,” the Nobel Assembly stated. “Our wellbeing is affected when there is a temporary mismatch between our external environment and this internal biological clock, for example when we travel across several time zones and experience ‘jet lag,'” the statement said. “There are also indications that chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner time keeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases.”
Rosbash apparently got the call that they had won just after 5:00 a.m. “I’m still shocked. I’m sitting here in my pajamas with my wife. I hadn’t even had a thought about this. I haven’t spoken with my colleagues yet. I haven’t even had time to have a cup of coffee,” he said.