Among the many challenges and mysteries of biology, one of the most fascinating is the circadian rhythm. This natural internal system regulates our sleep-wake cycle, controls hormone production, and even influences our behavior and mood. A recent interview with Nobel Prize-winning geneticist and chronobiologist, Michael Rosbash, sheds light on this complex topic.
During his Nobel acceptance speech, Rosbash mentioned that 50% of our genes were regulated by circadian rhythms. However, in a recent interview, he updated that figure to at least 70%, citing new research conducted in primates. This underscores the profound impact that circadian rhythms have on our biology.
Rosbash’s interest in chronobiology began almost fifty years ago when he collaborated with his friend Jeffrey C. Hall, a fellow professor at Brandeis University, on fly neurogenetics. The basis of Rosbash’s findings came from the study of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, which also has its own internal clock.
When asked about the biological purpose of sleep and daytime napping, Rosbash admitted that scientists still don’t fully understand it. While memories are consolidated during sleep, and neuronal morphology is modified, these may not be the deep purposes of sleep. He believes that sleep may be related to metabolism, such as recharging ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a key molecule for energy production in cells.
When it comes to the impact of electric light on our circadian rhythms, Rosbash expressed concerns about the widespread exposure to artificial light at night and the lack of natural sunlight during the day. He pointed out that research has shown that sleep problems can often be remedied by addressing environmental factors such as exposure to light.
Rosbash also indicated that the time of day can influence the effectiveness or adverse effects of medications, like statins, antihypertensives, corticosteroids, and chemotherapy. He mentioned that there have been studies showing that giving chemotherapy for some cancers at 3 a.m. is more effective, but there is resistance to changing established treatment patterns.
Overall, Rosbash’s insights provided a fascinating glimpse into the complex world of circadian rhythms and the profound ways they influence our biology and health. As researchers continue to delve deeper into this topic, their work may lead to new ways of understanding and treating a wide range of health issues related to sleep, metabolism, and the biological clock.