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Ancient body clock discovered that helps to keep all living things on time

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February 5, 2011

Scientists have identified the mechanism responsible for driving the internal clock of alm...

Scientists have identified the mechanism responsible for driving the internal clock of almost all living organisms (Image: Yassine Mrabet)

A group of Cambridge scientists have successfully identified the mechanism that drives our internal 24-hour clock, or circadian rhythm. It occurs not only in human cells, but has also been found in other life forms such as algae, and has been dated back millions of years. Whilst the research promises a better understanding of the problems associated with shift-work and jet-lag, this mechanism has also been proven to be responsible for sleep patterns, seasonal shifts and even the migration of butterflies.

The study from the Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge discovered that red blood cells contain this 24-hour rhythm. In the past, scientists assumed this rhythm came from DNA and gene activity but unlike most cells, red blood cells do not contain DNA.

During this study, the Cambridge scientists incubated healthy red blood cells in the dark at body temperature for several days, sampling them at regular intervals. It was discovered that the levels of peroxiredoxins (proteins that are produced in blood), underwent a 24-hour cycle. Virtually all known organisms contain peroxiredoxins.

"The implications of this for health are manifold," said Akhilesh Reddy, lead author of the study. "We already know that disrupted clocks – for example, caused by shift-work and jet-lag – are associated with metabolic disorders such as diabetes, mental health problems and even cancer. By furthering our knowledge of how the 24-hour clock in cells works, we hope that the links to these disorders – and others – will be made clearer. This will, in the longer term, lead to new therapies that we couldn't even have thought about a couple of years ago."

A second study by scientists working together at the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge, and the Observatoire Oceanologique in Banyuls, France, identified a similar 24-hour rhythm in marine algae. Once again, the scientists held a previous belief that the circadian clock was driven by gene activity, but both the algae and the red blood cells proved this theory wrong.

"This groundbreaking research shows that body clocks are ancient mechanisms that have stayed with us through a billion years of evolution," said Andrew Millar of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences. "They must be far more important and sophisticated than we previously realized. More work is needed to determine how and why these clocks developed in people – and most likely all other living things on Earth – and what role they play in controlling our bodies."

The papers "Circadian Clocks in Human Red Blood Cells" and "Circadian Rhythms Persist Without Transcription in a Eukaryote" were published on 27th January 2011 in the journal Nature.

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema.   All articles by Bridget Borgobello
9 Comments

Maybe GOD ?

liverpoollady28714
7th February, 2011 @ 05:50 am PST

"a billion years of evolution" (the result of accidental coincidences) " / "far more important and sophisticated than we previously realized" (identifies intelligent design) Which is it? You can't have it bought ways!

donwine
7th February, 2011 @ 06:04 am PST

I hope you're both joking.

Evolution is not a result of accidental coincidences. It's nearly the opposite. And it's precisely the "importance" of these cycles that drove the mechanism of evolution to the pinnacle of "sophistication".

They didn't start out sophisticated. They started out simple. But a very simple component of a very simple cycle became important enough to be selected for subsequent generations. Then a very small mutation in one of these cyclical organisms created a new component of this cycle, which was important enough to select again, now creating a multi-component cycle, although not yet sophisticated, and most likely only existing in single cell (or at least microscopic) organisms at this point (probably hundreds of millions of years ago).

It could very likely have been quadrillions of generations just to get 2-3 component cycles to stick in a microscopic multi-cellular organism. Remember, tiny little guys like that don't live for 70 years. This could all have happened 500 million years ago, in the timeframe of a few hundred thousand years, thus setting the stage for more complex and interesting evolution to come.

Firehawk70
7th February, 2011 @ 08:09 am PST

Ah please quit with the bible thumping and let the science stand by itself. It's simple - blood cells react to sunlight, no divine miracle there, just elemental biology. Why not try to actually understand the principle of evolution before you give up and just say 'oh well it must be god then.'

You can choose to be naive or you can make the effort to try to understand, but choosing the former does not make your monotheistic diety any less fictional.

PeetEngineer
7th February, 2011 @ 08:36 am PST

You see the Grand Canyon and you see nature at work, you see Mt Rushmore, Stonehenge, and you see creative intelligence, you see built in mechanisms, order and design, smaller and smaller building blocks, all synergistically working together and you see no creative intelligence? You show me your faith without works and I'll show you my faith with works.

John Nelson
7th February, 2011 @ 09:16 am PST

Accidental = unknown cause, NOT without cause. There is always cause & effect. When we say something happened "by accident", we mean we don't know the cause.

Why do they say: "creative" or "intelligent" design? So we know they are not talking about destructive or stupid design? Aren't these terms redundant?

Before science, events were "explained" as "a god did it", e.g., the god of thunder. But does this really explain anything? NO! It still leaves the questions: If God created everything, then how did God come about and how did HE create it?

voluntaryist
7th February, 2011 @ 03:59 pm PST

One billion years ago a day was 25 hours. It has been proven that our body clock is on a 25 hour day.

voluntaryist
7th February, 2011 @ 04:06 pm PST

Most of my life i have understood evolution to be the product of chance. Intelligent design over rules the possibility of this. Deciding whether or not Jehovah(YHWH,YHVH,JHVH pick your own pronunciation of Gods Name) exists is simply a matter of basic observation. The amount of evidence that points to a Divine Creator far outweighs the evidence of existence being simply chance(evolution). Science is not about deciding who created what, but simply how. How was it accomplished? It is possible to believe in a Divine Creator and be a scientist. Although, It would certainly be much easier to ask God himself the questions of how things are made, but since we currently cannot do so directly, science (and what has been Divinely left for our viewing pleasure -the Bible-) Will have to suffice in the satiation of our curiosity. However, I suffer from Circadian dysfunction, So either way, this information is interesting to me. I hope a way to reset this system is found, i know i could sure benefit from it.

Raymond Johnson
8th February, 2011 @ 01:11 am PST

@Raymond - An answer to your prayers? http://www.gizmag.com/go/1848/

monkeybrains
2nd March, 2011 @ 10:34 am PST
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