Researchers figure out what makes a simple biological clock tick

atician. "What weve come up with is our best guess model for how the system works."

According to Byrnes model, the key to the systems stability is the role played by the exchange of monomers by KaiC hexamers. "The 24-hour cycle is the variation in the average phosphorylation level of the hexamers. To produce sustained rhythms in the system, you must have some way to synchronize the phosphorylation levels of individual hexamers," he says. The fact that the hexamers are exchanging monomers at a substantially faster rate than the process of phosphorylation and dephosphorylation keeps phosphorylation levels evenly distributed throughout the KaiC population. "If the population becomes asynchronous that is, if some hexamers phosphorylate and dephosphorylate out of synch with the others then the hexamers will start oscillating out of phase with each other and you will lose the rhythm."

The model successfully explains why a specific proportion of the three proteins is needed to establish the 24-hour rhythm, how temperature can reset the system and the general characteristics of the bioclock system. However, there is a great deal more to learn.

"This paper is our first step toward visualizing what is happening during the 24-hour cycle," says Stewart. "The next level of understanding will be how the proteins work together as a nanomachine to carry out their job."

Then, too, the researchers realize the way that bioclock systems work in living cells is substantially more complex than what takes place in a test tube. For one thing, there will be additional levels of regulation, such as control of the synthesis of the bioclock protein monomers, that influence their operation.


Contact: David F. Salisbury
Vanderbilt University

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