Medicine Nobel awarded for work on circadian clocks : Nature News & Comment

Nora Tam/SCMP

Michael Rosbash (left), Jeffrey Hall (centre) and Michael Young (right) have been recognized for their work on circadian clocks.

Three scientists who studied the workings of organisms’ inner circadian clocks have won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash, both at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, will split the award of 9 million Swedish kronor (US$1.1 million) with Michael Young at Rockefeller University in New York City.

Beginning in the 1980s, the three researchers isolated and characterized a gene in fruit flies, period, that encodes a protein that builds up each night, only to be broken down the following day. In subsequent work, the trio, as well as other scientists, unpicked the molecular regulation of the period gene (and the protein that it encodes, called PER) and identified additional components of the circadian clock.

All multicellular organisms possess circadian clocks, and human versions of the genes that comprise their clocks have been implicated in sleeping disorders and other medical conditions.

Rosbash, Hall and Young have been collecting awards together for the past five years. In 2013, for example, they shared the Shaw Prize in life science and medicine, then worth US$1 million. That has set the expectation that a Nobel might be around the corner, says Herman Wijnen, who studies circadian clocks at the University of Southampton, UK and was a postdoc in Young’s lab. “This has been one that people have been looking out for,” he says. “It’s been settled in the scientific community that this is the trio.”

But Young says he was so stunned by the news that he could barely get his shoes on the morning he found out. “I’d go and I’d pick up the shoes, and then I’d realize I need the socks,” he said…

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