Tick-tock, tick-tock…we’ll explain your biological clock!

If, like me, you’re one of those people who wake up at exactly the same time every morning without ever setting an alarm clock you’ve no doubt had people ask how you do it? Well, now you can tell them!

According to researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies it’s all in our genes.  Recently they identified a gene responsible for starting our biological clock every morning.

The biological clock ramps up our metabolism early each day, initiating important physiological functions that tell our bodies that it’s time to rise and shine. Discovery of this new gene and the mechanism by which it starts the clock everyday may help explain the genetic underpinnings of sleeplessness, aging, and chronic illnesses such as cancer and diabetes.  Better still, it could eventually lead to new therapies for these illnesses.

The body is essentially a collection of clocks,” says Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor in Salk’s Regulatory Biology Laboratory, who led the research along with Luciano DiTacchio, a post-doctoral research associate. “We roughly knew what mechanism told the clock to wind down at night, but we didn’t know what activated us again in the morning. Now that we’ve found it, we can explore more deeply how our biological clocks malfunction as we get older and develop chronic illness.”

In a report just published in Science, the Salk researchers and their collaborators at McGill University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine describe how the gene encodes a protein that serves as an activation switch in the biochemical circuit that maintains our circadian rhythm. The discovery fills in a missing link in the molecular mechanisms that control our daily wake-sleep cycle.

It turns out that the molecular bugle call for cells and organs to get back to work each morning is an enzyme known as JARID1a.

Now that scientists understand why we wake each day, they can explore the role of JARID1a in sleep disorders and chronic diseases, possibly using it as a target for new drugs.

SRxA’s Word on Health looks forward to these developments and to a good night’s sleep!

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