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The biological clock: What really makes us tick

HOUSTON, March 25, 2004 From sleep patterns to health conditions, biological clocks get down to what makes us tick. The University of Houston is home to one of the world's leading centers for biological rhythms research. With five laboratories and a team of more than 30 scholars led by five tenured faculty members, the UH Biological Clocks Program studies an array of issues with far-reaching human implications.

Paul Hardin, a professor of biology and biochemistry at UH, primarily focuses on researching the molecular mechanisms that underlie circadian oscillators, which are biological clocks that control daily rhythms such as sleep-wake cycles and daily cycles of many hormones. By understanding this molecular circuitry that underlies biological rhythm function in the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), Hardin is determining how daily rhythms in physiology and behavior found in many organisms are controlled by an innate, genetically encoded circadian clock. This research has allowed Hardin to be able to define certain genetic relationships that, in turn, led to the discovery that circadian oscillators can produce profound effects on the performance of animal sensory systems. His research with fruit flies, then, also is pertinent to biological clock function in mammals.

"Distinct rhythms are present in so many organisms, spanning the evolutionary chain of microbes, plants, animals and humans," Hardin said. "One of the main reasons for studying circadian rhythms is to uncover the impact they have on human health and well being. A better understanding of the function of these rhythms across species can help us evaluate the consequences of problems that occur when the clock is damaged in humans."

Also known as circadian rhythms, biological clocks offer scientific insight into depression and medication toxicity, as well as helps pinpoint peak attack times related to lung, heart and brain disorders. For instance, it has been found tha
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Contact: Lisa Merkl
lkmerkl@uh.edu
713-743-8192
University of Houston
25-Mar-2004


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