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Whether we to be or not, we’re all on a clock — a biological one that ticks off a 24 hour day and regulates our waking and sleep cycle.
With a nod to the importance of our inner Timex, the Nobel Committee recognized this week the pioneering work of a trio of American scientists — Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young — that first uncovered the genetic basis of that circadian rhythm.
“(They) were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings,” said Thomas Perlmann, the secretary of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine. “Their discoveries explain how plants, animals, and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.”
A few years ago, 23andMe researchers completed a genome wide association study that uncovered 15 genetic variants associated with being a morning person. Some of the variants were in newly associated genes, but others were in genes with well-established influence on circadian rhythms, such as PER2. This PER (or “period”) gene was originally identified in the Nobel winners’ work. Despite fruit flies not looking like our closest cousins, circadian rhythm is such an essential trait for living things that basic research in model organisms helps us learn more about human health. (The workhorse, as it were, of genetic research is a small fruit fly called the drosophila, which is also happens to be the name of one of the meeting rooms at 23andMe HQ.)
23andMe has two reports, looking at how variants in two genes— BTBD9 and ADA — may influence your ability to drift off into a deep sleep, and how likely you are to move about while you slumber. If you’re a customer you can see you Deep Sleep report here, and your report on Sleep Movement here.