At the University of Georgia researchers are discovering that the biological clock of organisms is tied to a much larger set of genes than was previously thought. Though the research was performed on bread mold, the finding points to the importance of time on an organism, and may lead to a better understanding of the process in humans.
From a National Science Foundation press release:
“Physicists love things that oscillate,” he [Heinz-Bernd Schuttler, a computational physicist at the University of Georgia] says, smiling. “Most model organisms don’t oscillate, but this one does. So when it does, we believe it must be important for its survival. We had developed new ensemble modeling techniques that we wanted to try on a new project, so we put the whole method through its paces here and pushed it to the limit.”
The idea of a biological clock is easy for most people to understand. For instance, some people rise and shine while others rise and glower. Some can stay up all night while others fall asleep by nine. And yet, these examples are a vast simplification of the overall importance of biological clocks.
Before the team’s latest research, scientists had found only 16 clock-controlled genes in Neurospora, in more than 40 years of research. Schuttler and Arnold found a stunning 295 genes that are influenced by the clock. And that number may be very conservative.
“Now we can use the model for our next experiment, in which we don’t just look at a few genes in Neurospora, but all of them,” says Arnold, leaning back and shaking his head with amazement.
Nobody else has used such a model to dig for genes under the control of a biological clock, so the possibility of what comes next makes both scientists–normally serious and fairly quiet–sit up with obvious delight. As more progress is made with Neurospora, plans may take shape to scale their work up to a larger model organism–the mouse–where findings would be applicable to humans.