Body clock mechanics wins U.S. trio the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

diagram of biological clock

TIMEKEEPERS Three Americans have won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for discovering the gears of circadian clocks and how they govern daily rhythms, such as sleep, metabolism and other body processes. 

Mattias Karlen/

Discoveries about the clocklike ups and downs of daily life have won Jeffery C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

Circadian rhythms are daily cycles of hormones, gene activity and other biological processes that govern sleep, body temperature and metabolism. When thrown out of whack, there can be serious health consequences, including increased risk of diabetes, heart and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Hall and Rosbash discovered the first molecular gear of the circadian clockworks: A protein called Period increases and decreases in abundance on a regular cycle during the day. Young discovered that another protein called Timeless works with Period to drive the clock. Young also discovered other circadian clockworks.

Read our full story on the winners of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

Tina Hesman Saey

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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