3 US scientists win 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine for circadian rhythm research

Three U.S. scientists received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine Oct. 2 for their study of fruit flies and discoveries regarding circadian rhythms.

The three individuals who won the prize include:

  • Jeffrey C. Hall, PhD, professor emeritus of biology at Waltham, Mass.-based Brandeis University
  • Michael Rosbash, PhD, professor of biology, Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience at Brandeis University
  • Michael W. Young, PhD, vice president for academic affairs and Richard and Jeanne Fisher Professor of genetics at New York City-based The Rockefeller University

"[Drs. Hall, Rosbash and Young's research peeked] inside our biological clock and elucidate[d] its inner workings. Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth's revolutions," the Nobel Prize committee wrote.

The scientists' research involved the isolation of a gene in fruit flies that controls their normal daily biological rhythm. This gene, called PER, maintains a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night and degrades during the day. The researchers also identified additional protein components which explain the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell and how light affects the process.

The committee highlighted how the scientists' work helped to explain how a misalignment between a person's lifestyle and circadian rhythm — through jet lag, for example — could affect his or her well-being over time and increase their susceptibility to various diseases.

Dr. Young told The New York Times he received the congratulatory phone call Monday morning and was stunned by the announcement.

"I really had some trouble getting my shoes on this morning. I'd go and pick up my shoes and then I'd realize I need socks, and then I'd realize I need to put my pants on first," Dr. Young told The New York Times. "We were hopeful that what we saw in the fly would pertain more widely. I don't think we ever thought a beautiful mechanism would emerge."

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