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Splices of time

Organisms distinguish day and night by shifting the way genes are interpreted

Fruit flies and plants have independently come up with similar ways to mark time, a new study suggests.

Both modify the products of certain genes based on daily rhythms set by the organisms’ circadian clocks, the study shows. The finding, published online October 20 in Nature, may help scientists better understand how plants and animals respond to light-dark cycles.

Most research on circadian clocks has focused on the process by which the biological timekeepers turn genes on and off.  But the new study shows that the clocks also govern how molecules of RNA that are transcribed from a gene are spliced together for translation into the gene’s protein product.

“This paper certainly adds a very novel twist,” says Yi Liu, a biologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas who was not involved in the study.

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