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Purdue researchers discover basis for biological clock

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The biological clock -- timekeeper for virtually every activity within living things, from sleep patterns to respiration -- is a single protein, Purdue University researchers report.

The husband and wife team of D. James and Dorothy Morré has discovered this protein, which is responsible for setting the length of periods of activity and inactivity within cells. If the protein is altered, an organism's body will experience "days" of different length -- ranging from 22 to 42 hours in length in some cases. The discovery could have far-reaching implications for medicine.

"We can now begin to understand the complex chain of events that connect the clock to events in the body," said James Morr, Dow Distinguished Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in Purdue's School of Pharmacy and Pharmacal Sciences. "Since the clock affects nearly every bodily activity, this discovery holds myriad potential applications, from minimizing jet lag to determining when best to administer cancer drugs."

The research, which appears in the journal Biochemistry, is the culmination of four decades of work and a lifelong fascination of James Morré.

"I first set out to find the source of the biological clock in 1962, when I was still a student," he said. "Back then the question was the subject of perennial and lively scientific debate. Theories abounded as to why the body was able to keep its own rhythm -- some thought it was bound up in cellular chemistry, but others thought it could be influenced by anything from the lunar cycle to sunspots. No one could prove anything conclusively, though, so the physicists had a field day arguing about it."

The argument was more than just an intellectual exercise. Even in the early 1960s, scientists knew that cancer patients and the elderly often experienced disorders thought to be related to the biological clock. As time passed, it also became clear that astronauts suffered bone los
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Contact: Chad Boutin
cboutin@purdue.edu
765-494-2081
Purdue University
6-Jan-2003


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