Genetic Alarm Clock

Researchers identify a gene that wakes people up from sleep each day.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Oct 4, 2011

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, JORGE BARRIOS

Among the many biological functions regulated by the circadian clock is metabolism, which accelerates each morning and slows down each night. Now, researchers have pinpointed a gene that helps initiate the morning metabolism ramp up—a discovery that could provide clues for disorders such as insomnia, aging, even cancer and diabetes, according to a paper published last week in Science.

"The body is essentially a collection of clocks," co-lead researcher Satchidananda Panda of at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, said in a press release. "We roughly knew what mechanism told the clock to wind down at night, but we didn't know what activated us again in the morning. Now that we've found it, we can explore more deeply how our biological clocks malfunction as we get older and develop chronic illness."

Researchers found that a protein JARID1 turns on the circadian circuit by forming...

Researchers can now look to see if JARID1a plays a role in sleep disorders or chronic diseases, and thus serve as a possible target for novel drugs.

"So much of what it means to be healthy and youthful comes down to a good night's sleep," Panda says. "Now that we have identified JARID1a in activating our daytime cycle, we have a whole new avenue to explore why some people's circadian rhythms are off and to perhaps find new ways to help them."

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