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Nobel prize in medicine recognizes research on biological clock

The 2017 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young for their work on the genetic and cellular mechanisms that govern biological clocks and circadian rhythms, per AP.

"Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth's revolutions," said Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, when he announced the prize.

Why it matters: Hall, Rosbach, and Young's work launched the field of circadian biology. We now understand that when our waking cycle doesn't match our inner clock — think jet-lag — there could be lasting health consequences.

What they found: Hall, Rosbash and Young received the award for their work on fruit fly genes named "period," "timeless" and "doubletime." Period encodes the protein PER, which builds up in cells during the day and breaks down at night. Timeless codes the protein TIM, which helps PER enter the cell's nucleus and interact with the DNA. Doubletime is thought to control the rate these fluctuations happen.

How it works: It's a negative feedback loop. The proteins build until they reach such a high level that they enter the cell's nucleus and turn off the genes that encoded them in the first place. Then, they degrade until the gene turns back on. This discovery of this elegant system was called "paradigm-shifting" by the prize committee.

Editor's note: This post has updated.