You may think they’re just a nuisance and in many ways just a little bit gross, however Drosophila, otherwise known as fruit flies, have just bagged themselves a fifth Nobel Prize!
They’ve been the study species at the forefront of science for over a century thanks to their easily mapped DNA and prolific breeding rate. Most recently it has enabled three scientists – Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young- to win the Nobel prize in Medicine for exposing the inner workings of our biological clocks.
All species have an internal biological clock that syncronises with the earth’s light and dark phases and humans are no different. This internal biological clock is known as the ‘Circadian Rhythm’. It is responsible for regulating a variety of mechanisms in the body such as behaviour, hormone levels, metabolism, body temperature and importantly, when we sleep.
These three Nobel Prize winning scientists have uncovered the mechanisms behind the way the rhythm works and found that it is controlled by our genes. A protein is formed in our body which accumulates during the day and then is degraded at night, ultimately controlling the systems of our body over a 24-hour period.
It has long been known that taking lengthy plane journeys that result in jet-lag disrupt the circadian rhythms and when this happens it takes several days for the body to reset itself. What scientists have now found is that things such as eating and using our phones late at night is having not only the same effects as jet-lag but it’s also having the same effects as mutations in the genes responsible for regulating out biological clock. The results of this include cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. This new understanding of how the circadian rhythms work mean that scientists can in future, tailor medical treatments to when’s most effective depending on the biological clock. For example, chemotherapy is more effective at 3am than at other times of day and some drugs may work better at night depending on the regulation of disease specific chemicals in the body.
Maybe next time you’re thinking about having that late-night snack it might be worth getting a good night sleep instead, it could be just what the doctor ordered.