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Researchers figure out what makes a simple biological clock tick

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Vanderbilt University has analyzed the simplest known biological clock and figured out what makes it tick. The results of their analysis are published in the March 27 issue of the journal Public Library of Science Biology.

Biological clocks are microscopic pacemakers. They are found in everything from pond scum to human beings and appear to help organize a dizzying array of biochemical processes. A traveler experiences jet lag when his or her internal clock becomes out of synch with the environment. Seasonal Affective Disorder, some types of depression, sleep disorders and problems adjusting to changes in work cycles all can occur when an individual's biological clock acts up. Recent studies have even found links between these molecular timepieces and cancer.

In 2005, a group of Japanese researchers surprised the scientific community by showing that the three proteins which make up the biological clock in blue green algae will establish a 24-hour cycle on their own when placed in a test tube with adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the chemical that powers biological reactions.

"That was a big surprise," says Carl Johnson, the professor of biological sciences who headed the new study. "We all thought the system was much more complicated and required feedback from the cells genetic machinery in order to work."

The announcement prompted Johnson, who had been working along similar lines, to assemble an interdisciplinary team to figure out how these three proteins can establish and maintain a steady, 24-hour cycle. He and his long-time collaborator, Professor of Biochemistry Martin Egli, recruited a group of researchers who are experts in electron microscopy Associate Professor Phoebe Stewart and Research Fellow Dewight Williams and biophysics Professor Hassane Mchaourab all from the Department of Molecular Physiology. Biomathematician Mark Byrne, a research fellow in pharmacology, rounded out the group
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Contact: David F. Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
26-Mar-2007


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