The Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to three Americans on Monday for discoveries about the body’s daily rhythms.
The laureates are Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michal W. Young. Rosbash is on the faculty at Brandeis University, Young at Rockefeller University and Hall is at the University of Maine.
“Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions,” the Nobel Assembly said.
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 2, 2017
The citation for the 9-million-kronor ($1.1 million) prize said the researchers isolated a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm.
Hall, 72, Rosbash, 73, and Young, 68, “were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings,” said the Nobel Assembly.
Life on Earth is adapted to the rotation of our planet. For many years, scientists have known that living organisms, including humans, have an internal clock that help them anticipate and adapt to the rhythm of the day.
The clock influences such biological functions as hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism.
It is what causes jetlag — when our internal clock and external environment become out of sync when we change time zones.
Using the fruit fly as a model organism, this year’s laureates isolated a gene that controls the 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,” the Nobel team said.
“Subsequently they identified additional protein components of this machinery, exposing the mechanism governing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell.”
The winners have raised “awareness of the importance of a proper sleep hygiene” said Juleen Zierath of the Nobel academy.
Rosbash is the son of immigrants who fled Nazi Germany in 1938. His father was a synagogue cantor.
In an autobiographical piece Rosbash wrote when he was awarded the Shaw Prize in 2013, he spoke of his parents’ emigration.
“I won’t start quite at the beginning… but the emigration of my parents from Nazi Germany and their new life in the USA,” he wrote. “A one sentence summary of these events is that after some years of trouble and considerable hard work, my parents established a satisfactory if not comfortable life for themselves and their two children.”