Tag: Time

Blood Test Could Tell You What Time It Is In Your Body

Whether you’re an early bird, a night owl or a functions-best-at-midday kind of person very much has to do with slight variations in your body’s internal clock.

But if you’re unclear on what time it is inside your body, there might be a blood test one day that can tell you.

That could be important, because a “misalignment” between your body’s clock and the actual time can be harmful.

(An example of such a misalignment would be if the most accurate atomic clock says it’s 8 p.m., while the cells inside a person’s body said, no, it’s 6 p.m.)

The test could also help doctors deliver drug doses at precise times, the researchers said, though more research is needed before the test could be used clinically.

The new blood test, called TimeSignature, uses a machine-learning algorithm that’s trained to look for patterns of gene expression at different times of day.

The researchers recently filed a patent for the blood test and published the results of their study today (Sept. 10) in the journal PNAS.

The team examined 20,000 genes in the body and found that there were around 40 that showed robust gene signals connected to different times.

In other words, these 40 genes were more likely to turn on at certain times of day, based on a person’s internal clock.

For example, if a person’s body thinks it’s 6 a.m., it will express more of gene A than gene B; whereas if it thinks it is 8 a.m., perhaps it will express more of gene C and a little bit of genes A and B.

The TimeSignature test learns those patterns and can spit out an estimate of what time the body’s clock thinks it is.

The researchers tested the TimeSignature algorithm on genetic data from three separate studies that were focused on blood and also tried the test on blood samples from 11 patients.

They found that they could predict when the blood was drawn, typically within a range of 2 hours.

They also reported that once their test is trained on what levels of genes to expect, it can be universally applied to data from various patients.

n order for the test to be accurate, the patient would need to have at least two blood draws that are reasonably spaced apart in time, according to the study.

In contrast, previous tests that aimed to pinpoint the time of the internal clock required blood draws every hour over multiple hours, the researchers said.

Such a test might be able to help medical practitioners deliver drugs at times that are tailored for each individual patient.

So many drugs have optimal times for dosing,” study co-author Dr. Phyllis Zee, the chief of sleep medicine in neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine neurologist, said in a statement.

The best time for you to take the blood pressure drug or the chemotherapy or radiation may be different from somebody else.”

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Into The Minds Of Those Who Can Literally See Time

Synaesthesia can be broadly understood as a jumbling-up of the senses.

Seeing a certain color when you hear a certain sound or feeling a sensation on your own body after seeing it happen to somebody else but sometimes, it gets a little more nitty-gritty than that.

Take, for example, grapheme-color synaesthesia, one of the most common types, in which letters and numerals are imagined in their own consistent hues (for instance, “A” is always red, or “4” is always yellow).

Or tactile-emotional synaesthesia, in which running your fingers over a given texture, like denim, can be enough to trigger a strong feeling of joy or disgust.

Or the case of two “calendar synaesthetes,” recently published in the journal Neurocase.

When asked to visualize a calendar, the patients, a pair of women identified as ML and EA, literally saw it laid out in front of them, as if in physical form.

ML’s was arranged in a V-shape, with the months written out in a specific font along the two lines.

EA’s was like a hula-hoop in front of her chest, with December passing through her body no matter what the actual time of year.

To ensure that what the patients were seeing was different than ordinary mind’s-eye visualization, the paper’s authors ran a series of visual tests.

In one, for instance, they asked ML to recite the months in reverse order, skipping over two out of every three.

The task took her less than two seconds per month, compared with roughly four and a half seconds per month for the control group, suggesting that she really was “reading” them off some invisible chart rather than counting backward in her head.

The study authors, who called their paper the first “clear unambiguous proof for the veracity and true perceptual nature” of calendar synaesthesia, estimated that the phenomenon affects roughly 1 percent of the population.

But its existence, they argued, has implications for the more universal question of how our brains make sense of time.

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How Your Brain Tells Time

In the middle of your brain, there’s a personal assistant the size of a grain of rice. It’s a group of about 20,000 brain cells that keeps your body’s daily schedule.

Partly in response to light signals from the retina, this group of neurons sends signals to other parts of the brain and the rest of the body to help control things like sleep, metabolism, immune system activity, body temperature and hormone production on a schedule slightly longer than 24 hours.

Daniel Forger, a mathematics professor at the University of Michigan who uses math to study biological processes, wants to understand this brain region, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in excruciating detail.

He is building a mathematical model of the entire structure that he thinks will shed important light on our circadian rhythm, and perhaps lead to treatments for disorders like depression and insomnia, and even diseases influenced by the internal clock like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

I think we’re going to be able to have a very accurate model of the circadian rhythm, all the key proteins, all the electric activity of all 20,000 neurons,” he says.

We’ll be able to track all of them for days on a timescale of milliseconds.

Forger has already taken a few steps down this path and found some surprises.

In a paper published in a recent issue of the journal Science, Forger, along with colleagues Mino Belle and Hugh Piggins of the University of Manchester in England and others, showed that the firing pattern of the time-keeping neurons in the SCN was not at all what researchers had long thought.

Researchers who studied the electrical activity of the SCN had believed that the neurons there helped the body keep time by sending lots of electrical signals during the day, and then falling silent at night. Makes sense. Lots of non-teenage creatures are active during the day and quiet at night.

But when Forger used experimental data to build a mathematical model of the electrical activity, he calculated that there should be lots of activity at dawn and dusk, and a state of “quiet alertness” during the day. That didn’t make much intuititve sense.

Worse, the cellular chemistry during this quiet period that Forger’s model predicted would, in normal cells, lead quickly to cell death.

Skepticism doesn’t begin to describe what I was met with,” says Forger. “Experimentalists told me, ‘That’s crazy.’”

Researchers in the field simply assumed Forger’s model was wrong. Forger refined it and reworked it, and got similar results.

Meanwhile, his British colleagues began to probe the fact that there are two types of cells in the SCN, ones that have very strong molecular clocks and do the timekeeping, and others that behave more like normal brain cells.

While previous researchers had recorded the activity of all of the cells in the SCN, Belle and Piggins were able to set up an experiment using mice that would record only the activity of the clock cells. Their experimental results matched Forger’s predictions.

When we got the results, they were shocking,” Forger says. “They were dead on.”

The cells in the SCN that don’t keep time followed the pattern researchers were familiar with, active during the day, quiet at night.

The time-keeping cells went bananas in the morning and at night, but then during the day they stayed in a bizarre state of excitement during which they emitted very few impulses. Why these cells can stay alive in this state remains a mystery.

Forger has been down this path before. Another study of his, published in 2007, reversed the thinking on how gene mutations affect circadian rhythms within cells.

Scientists studying a hamster that had a malfunctioning internal clock (its daily rhythm lasted 20 hours instead of 24) found that it had a mutation in a gene called tau.

The fuzzy rodent was given the extremely appropriate name “Tau Mutant Hamster.

They thought Tau Mutant Hamster’s mutation caused an enzyme that helped cells keep time to be less active. Forger predicted that it would instead make the enzyme more active. Experiments later proved he was right.

Now Forger is turning his attention to the entire SCN. He thinks that math is the only way we can understand the sheer complexity of what is happening–neurotransmitters coming and going, protein clocks being built up and broken down, electricity bouncing around.

To piece it all together, you need more than intuition,” he says. “You need math to see what’s going on.”

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What Came Before The Big Bang?

It is difficult enough to imagine a time, roughly 13.7 billion years ago, when the entire universe existed as a singularity.

According to the big bang theory, one of the main contenders vying to explain how the universe came to be, all the matter in the cosmos – all of space itself – existed in a form smaller than a subatomic particle.

Once you think about that, an even more difficult question arises: What existed just before the big bang occurred?

The question itself predates modern cosmology by at least 1,600 years. Fourth-century theologian St. Augustine wrestled with the nature of God before the creation of the universe.

His answer? Time was part of God’s creation, and there simply was no “before” that a deity could call home.

Armed with the best physics of the 20th century, Albert Einstein came to very similar conclusions with his theory of relativity.

Just consider the effect of mass on time. A planet’s hefty mass warps time — making time run a tiny bit slower for a human on Earth’s surface than a satellite in orbit.

The difference is too small to notice, but time even runs more slowly for someone standing next to a large boulder than it does for a person standing alone in a field.

The pre-big bang singularity possessed all the mass in the universe, effectively bringing time to a standstill.

Following this line of logic, the title of this article is fundamentally flawed.

According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, time only came into being as that primordial singularity expanded toward its current size and shape.

Case closed? Far from it. This is one cosmological quandary that won’t stay dead.

In the decades following Einstein’s death, the advent of quantum physics and a host of new theories resurrected questions about the pre-big bang universe. Keep reading to learn about some of them.

Here’s a thought: What if our universe is but the offspring of another, older universe? Some astrophysicists speculate that this story is written in the relic radiation left over from the big bang: the cosmic microwave background (CMB).

Astronomers first observed the CMB in 1965, and it quickly created problems for the big bang theory — problems that were subsequently addressed (for a while) in 1981 with the inflation theory.

This theory entails an extremely rapid expansion of the universe in the first few moments of its existence.

It also accounts for temperature and density fluctuations in the CMB, but dictates that those fluctuations should be uniform.

In chaotic inflation theory, this concept goes even deeper: an endless progression of inflationary bubbles, each becoming a universe, and each of these birthing even more inflationary bubbles in an immeasurable multiverse.

Other scientists place the formation of the singularity inside a cycle called the big bounce in which our expanding universe will eventually collapse back in on itself in an event called the big crunch.

A singularity once more, the universe will then expand in another big bang.

This process would be eternal and, as such, every big bang and big crunch the universe ever experiences would be nothing but a rebirth into another phase of existence.

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Working An Occasional Night Shift Could Kill You

Working an occasional night shift for a prolonged period could ultimately kill you, according to a major new study.

Researchers in the US looked at the medical records of about 189,000 women over a 24-year period and found a significant link between ‘rotating’ shift patterns, in which people alternate between night and day work, and coronary heart disease (CHD).

They suggested further work should be done to find out if shift patterns could be altered to reduce the risks.

Scientists have reported the adverse health effects of working night shifts before but the sheer size of this study underlines the extent of the problem.

Dr Celine Vetter, lead author of a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), said: “There are a number of known risk factors for coronary heart disease, such as smoking, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and elevated body mass index. 

These are all critical factors when thinking how to prevent CHD. However, even after controlling for these risk factors, we still saw an increased risk of CHD associated with rotating shift work.

They found that those who worked three or more night shifts a month for a decade had a 15 to 18 per cent higher chance of getting the disease than those who did not have a rotating shift pattern  – an effect they described as “modest”.

They said their findings were applicable only to women as occasional shift work might affect men differently.

It is important to note that this is a modifiable risk factor, and changing shift schedules may have an impact on the prevention of CHD,” said Dr Vetter, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Our results are in line with other findings, yet, it is possible that different schedules might carry a different risk — and we have very little information on exact schedules — as well as work start and end times. 

We believe that the results from our study underline the need for future research to further explore the relationship between shift schedules, individual characteristics and coronary health to potentially reduce CHD risk.

The researchers used information from the US Nurses’ Health Study in which they reported everything from heart attacks to CHD-related chest pain. Fatalities from CHD were confirmed by death certificates.

Over the 24-year period of the study, more than 10,000 women developed the disease.

It has been suggested that changing shifts can disrupt people’s body clock, which operates on a rough 24-hour cycle.

Circadian misalignment – where the [the body’s natural rhythm is out of step] with behavioural cycles of activity, sleep and food intake – may be a key mechanism linking shift work to chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease,” the researchers wrote in the JAMA paper.

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The Big Bang Wasn’t The Beginning, After All

A Universe that expands and cools today, like ours does, must have been hotter and denser in the past. Initially, the Big Bang was regarded as the singularity from which this ultimate, hot, dense state emerged. But we know better today.

The Universe began not with a whimper, but with a bang! At least, that’s what you’re commonly told: the Universe and everything in it came into existence at the moment of the Big Bang.

Space, time, and all the matter and energy within began from a singular point, and then expanded and cooled, giving rise over billions of years to the atoms, stars, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies spread out across the billions of light years that make up our observable Universe.

It’s a compelling, beautiful picture that explains so much of what we see, from the present large-scale structure of the Universe’s two trillion galaxies to the leftover glow of radiation permeating all of existence.

Unfortunately, it’s also wrong, and scientists have known this for almost 40 years.

The idea of the Big Bang first came about back in the 1920s and 1930s. When we looked out at distant galaxies, we discovered something peculiar: the farther away from us they were, the faster they appeared to be receding from us.

According to the predictions of Einstein’s General Relativity, a static Universe would be gravitationally unstable; everything needed to either be moving away from one another or collapsing towards one another if the fabric of space obeyed his laws.

The observation of this apparent recession taught us that the Universe was expanding today, and if things are getting farther apart as time goes on, it means they were closer together in the distant past.

An expanding Universe doesn’t just mean that things get farther apart as time goes on, it also means that the light existing in the Universe stretches in wavelength as we travel forward in time.

Since wavelength determines energy (shorter is more energetic), that means the Universe cools as we age, and hence things were hotter in the past.

It’s tempting, therefore, to keep extrapolating backwards in time, to when the Universe was even hotter, denser, and more compact.

First noted by Vesto Slipher, the more distant a galaxy is, on average, the faster it’s observed to recede away from us. For years, this defied explanation, until Hubble’s observations allowed us to put the pieces together: the Universe was expanding.

Theorists thinking about these problems started thinking of alternatives to a “singularity” to the Big Bang, and rather of what could recreate that hot, dense, expanding, cooling state while avoiding these problems.

The conclusion was inescapable: the hot Big Bang definitely happened, but doesn’t extend to go all the way back to an arbitrarily hot and dense state.

Instead, the very early Universe underwent a period of time where all of the energy that would go into the matter and radiation present today was instead bound up in the fabric of space itself.

That period, known as cosmic inflation, came to an end and gave rise to the hot Big Bang, but never created an arbitrarily hot, dense state, nor did it create a singularity.

What happened prior to inflation — or whether inflation was eternal to the past — is still an open question, but one thing is for certain: the Big Bang is not the beginning of the Universe!

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How the U.S. Built The World’s Most Ridiculously Accurate Atomic Clock

Throw out that lame old atomic clock that’s only accurate to a few tens of quadrillionths of a second. The U.S. has introduced a new atomic clock that is three times more accurate than previous devices.

Atomic clocks are responsible for synchronizing time for much of our technology, including electric power grids, GPS, and the watch on your iPhone.

On Apr. 3, the National Institute of Standards and Technology () in Boulder, ColoNISTrado officially launched their newest standard for measuring time using the NIST-F2 atomic clock, which has been under development for more than a decade.

NIST-F2 is accurate to one second in 300 million years,” said Thomas O’Brian, who heads NIST’s time and frequency division, during a press conference April 3.

The clock was recently certified by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures as the world’s most accurate time standard.

The advancement is more than just a feather in the cap for metrology nerds. Precise timekeeping underpins much of our modern world.

GPS, for instance, needs accuracy of about a billionth of a second in order to keep you from getting lost. These satellites rely on high precision coming from atomic clocks at the U.S. Naval Observatory.

GPS, in turn, is used for synchronizing digital networks such as cell phones and the NTP servers that provide the backbone of the internet.

Your smartphone doesn’t display the time to the sixteenth decimal place, but it still relies on the frequency standards coming from NIST’s clocks, which make their measurements while living in a tightly controlled lab environment.

Real world clocks must operate under strained conditions such as temperature swings, significant vibration, or changing magnetic fields that degrade and hamper their accuracy.

It’s important then that the ultimate reference standard has much better performance than the real world technologies.

What will we do once we reach the ability to break down time into super-tiny, hyper-accurate units? Nobody knows.

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Deepest Dive Ever Under Antarctica Reveals a Shockingly New World

In the morning, when we arrive on foot from Dumont d’Urville, the French scientific base on the Adélie Coast of East Antarctica, we have to break up a thin layer of ice that has formed over the hole we drilled the day before.

The hole goes right through the 10-foot-thick ice floe. It’s just wide enough for a man, and below it lies the sea. We’ve never tried to dive through such a small opening.

Pushing and pulling with hands, knees, heels, and the tips of my swim fins, I shimmy through the hole. As I plunge at last into the icy water, I look back—to a sickening sight. The hole has already begun to close behind me.

The bottom surface of the sea ice is a thick slurry of floating ice crystals, and my descent has set them in motion. They’re converging on the hole as if it were an upside-down drain.

By the time I thrust one arm into the icy mush, it’s three feet thick. Grabbing the safety rope, I pull myself up inch by inch, but my shoulders get stuck.

Suddenly I’m stunned by a sharp blow to the head: Cédric Gentil, one of my dive buddies, is trying to dig me out, and his shovel has struck my skull.

Finallya hand grabs mine and hauls me into the air. Today’s dive is over—but it’s only one of 32.

I’ve come here with another photographer, Vincent Munier, at the invitation of filmmaker Luc Jacquet, who’s working on a sequel to his 2005 triumph, March of the Penguins.

While Jacquet films emperor penguins and Munier photographs them, my team will document life under the sea ice. In the winter the ice reaches 60 miles out to sea here, but we’ve come in October 2015, at the beginning of spring.

For 36 days, as the ice breaks up and retreats to within a few miles of the coast, we’ll dive through it, down as deep as 230 feet.

The preparations for each day’s dive take about as long. Where we can’t slide into holes left by Weddell seals and their busy teeth, we dig our own with an ice-drilling machine.

Seals, when they need air, somehow find their way back to their hole; our greatest dread is getting lost and trapped under the ice.

So we drop a luminescent yellow rope into the hole and pull it along with us during the dive. At the end we follow it back up.

Our suits have four layers: thermal underwear on the inside, followed by an electrically heated bodysuit, a thick fleece, and a half-inch-thick layer of waterproof neoprene.

There’s a hood as well as an underhood, waterproof gloves and heated liners, fins, and 35 pounds of weights.

There are two batteries for the heated bodysuit, a rebreather to remove carbon dioxide from our exhalations, backup gas cylinders, and finally, my photography equipment.

We look like astronauts minus the bubble helmets. Just getting into our suits takes an hour and the help of Emmanuel Blanche, our emergency doctor.

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Inside The Shop Of The Last Great American Watchmaker

On the corner of a nondescript block in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is a bank, or what used to be a bank. Now it is the home of Roland G. Murphy Watch Company, the country’s only truly independent elite watchmaker.

Inside, Murphy’s son-in-law, Adam Robertson, is bent over an old watchmaker’s drill press that looks like it was made during the Korean War.

He uses an abrasive bit to create burnished, circular perlage on the underside of the main plate of the watch movement.

He is focused and unmoving, his attention riveted to the plate, whose decoration no one will ever see.

Later he’ll hand-polish the bevels of screw holes on the tiny bridge that holds the wheel-train gears in place.

High-end watchmaking has not, for the most part, always been something you find in Amish country. Or, for that matter, in the United States.

Typically, if you go looking for horological greatness, the kind of virtuosic craftsmanship associated with the greatest watchmakers, you go to Switzerland.

If you are looking for scrapple, you go to Pennsylvania. But Murphy, the 53-year-old owner and sole proprietor of the watchmaking company that bears his name, is the exception.

Like some of the small European companies directed by a single watchmaker, RGM makes fewer than 300 watches a year.

In contrast, the brands worshipped by most enthusiasts—Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin—produce tens of thousands a year. Rolex produces 2,000 a day.

Of course, Rolex doesn’t operate in a space that looks more like an Elks Lodge than a watch manufacturer, with a collection of vintage cameras filling shelf after shelf, along with various other mementos.

But then Murphy himself doesn’t fit the bill of a classic watchmaker. Burly, and with a thick head of salt-and-pepper hair and a bushy moustache to match, he looks more like a Pop Warner football coach.

Like most watchmakers, he started out doing repairs, and found himself drawn to the silent, obsessive work of creating tiny universes of absolute order.

After a few years of working on clocks, he found his way to Switzerland, where he made the horological equivalent of the leap into the big leagues: training at the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program, the Swiss watch industry’s official certification program in Neuchâtel.

Not long afterward Murphy landed at Hamilton Watch Company, where he eventually rose to an executive development position.

Hamilton, it ought to be noted, is a famous American watch brand.

But the dirty secret of nearly all American watch brands, Murphy’s excepted, is that they are either owned by the Swatch Group outright or utilize movements built and exported by one of its subsidiaries.

Most of the American watch companies you’ve heard about are using Swiss movements and Chinese casings.

And none even tries to produce the kind of arcane complications—a whirling tourbillon that compensates for gravity, say, or a precision moon-phase subdial—associated with the Patek Philippes and Jaeger-LeCoultres of the world.

RGM makes what are by far the most intricate and ambitious timepieces produced in the United States. But they aren’t just clones of Swiss watches either. They’re inspired by the tough, durable railroad watches of industrial America.

The paradox, of course, is that this rugged practicality is actually pure poetry. A $40 Casio G-Shock keeps more accurate time than a Breguet; a hot-pink Swatch a fourth-grader wears in the pool is more reliable than a watch that costs more than her home.

When you think about it, there’s no reason for anyone to create in-house movements for an American watch. Murphy’s quixotic commitment to craftsmanship has no value to anyone but an equally idealistic buyer.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Murphy’s masterpiece, the Pennsylvania Tourbillon. A mechanical watch, no matter how perfectly made, is affected slightly by gravity.

The rhythm of its escapement, the part of the movement that regulates timekeeping, varies slightly based on how the watch is positioned.

Not that anybody other than watchmakers would care or even notice. But the gravity problem stymied them, and so in 1801, Abraham-Louis Breguet patented a rotating cage to suspend the escapement, freeing it from the effects of gravity.

Two bridges hold the tourbillon cage in place. Murphy and his master watchmaker, Benoît Barbé, bore tiny holes in the bridges to mount the escape wheel, pallet, and balance.

They friction-fit a gold ring inside each hole and a jewel into each ring.

The 90-degree angle of the drilling, the depth of the holes, and the ring-and-jewel fittings must be precise to ensure the perfect relative positioning of the parts.

The slightest variation would ruin the mechanism.

The completed tourbillon turns 360 degrees once per minute, driven by a tiny spring coiled around the central axis. All of this work, by the way, can only be done by hand.

A few of the parts can be machined, but even those parts are usually made by equipment the two men created themselves.

Murphy doesn’t build watches for himself or his buyer. He builds for an ideal: that things should always be better than what’s necessary.

We don’t design on the limit,” Murphy says.

Think about the Brooklyn Bridge. How much weight do you think it had to bear when they built it? Some horse carriages? Some pedestrians?

Today there are giant semi trucks going over it all day, and it supports that weight because it wasn’t designed to the limit.

That’s something we take pride in.” And it’s something you won’t find anywhere else in America.

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3 Americans Win Nobel Prize In Medicine For Uncovering The Science Behind Our Biological Clocks

A trio of American scientists was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for revealing the mechanisms of the cellular clock that regulates biological changes in complex organisms across a 24-hour span.

Working at Brandeis University in the 1980s, Jeffrey C. Hall and Michael Rosbash uncovered the genetic basis of circadian rhythms in fruit flies.

Michael W. Young collaborated with Hall and Rosbash from Rockefeller University to isolate the key gene, which had been named “period” by scientists who had surmised its existence.

Hall, Rosbash and Young would go on to discover a variety of genetic and cellular mechanisms that keep the circadian clocks of living things ticking in sync with the Earth’s daily rotation.

Rosbash remains on the faculty at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., where Hall is a professor emeritus of biology. Young is still at Rockefeller University in New York City.

For some years, a team led by Hall and Rosbash competed against a team led by Young to be the first to clone the genes the group discovered.

But the threesome, now friends, have been widely recognized as the co-discoverers of the genetic mechanism underlying the circadian clock in complex organisms.

They were awarded the Hong Kong-based Shaw Prize in life sciences and medicine in 2013, an honor that may have paved the way for the Nobel Committee’s recognition.

The work honored Monday sheds light on how all multicellular creatures undergo regular changes in body temperature, hormones, metabolism and behavior that keep time with different phases of the day.

While the scientists conducted much of their pioneering work on fruit flies, the circadian clock is a powerful factor in human health as well.

It helps explain how jet lag and other disruptions to our evolved cycles of sleeping and waking can wear us down and contribute to disease.

Their research has laid the foundation for research into how the time of day influences everything from the way we think to how our bodies store calories or respond to medications.

In a world that’s open for business 24/7, research has shown that people who try to defy their circadian rhythms will eventually come up against the biological limits of their cells’ internal clocks.

Since the seminal discoveries by the three laureates, circadian biology has developed into a vast and highly dynamic research field, with implications for our health and well-being,” the Nobel committee said in its announcement Monday in Stockholm, Sweden.

Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said the trio’s work “is informing treatments for sleep disorders, obesity, mental health disorders, and other health problems.” The NIH has invested more than $30 million in their studies.

The work also underscores the sustained influence of our common environment on creatures up and down the evolutionary ladder.

The genetic mechanisms that keep fruit flies on a 24-hour cycle governed by day and night are the same as those for humans.

The research is “a great example of how studying fundamental biological processes in model organisms such as fruit flies reveals important principles that translate into a deeper understanding of human biology and disease,” said Jon R. Lorsch, director of the NIH’s National Institute on General Medical Sciences.

In its citation for the $1.1-million prize, the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said the researchers “were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings.

That process unfolded in many steps.

Hall, Rosbash and Young isolated the period gene in 1984.

It would take several more years for Hall and Rosbash to see that the protein encoded by that gene — called PER — went through a daily cycle of accumulating during the night and depleting over the course of the day.

How was that rhythm sustained? Hall and Rosbash surmised that some feedback loop was at work, whereby the buildup of PER protein inside the cell might dial down the period gene’s activity.

But they puzzled over how that shutoff signal was sent from the cytoplasm, where PER protein was produced, to the cell nucleus, where the genetic machinery was located.

That mystery was solved in 1994, with Young’s discovery of a second clock gene, which he called “timeless.” That gene also appeared to be required for organisms to maintain normal circadian rhythm, by encoding the production of a protein called TIM.

Young’s “elegant work,” the Nobel Committee wrote, showed that when the TIM and PER proteins were bound together, they were able to enter the cell nucleus.

There, they blocked the activity of the period gene and closed the feedback loop.

Over time, Young would go on to find a third timekeeper gene, which he dubbed “doubletime,” that would allow a more precise alignment of protein levels with a 24-hour cycle.

Hall, Rosbash and Young have identified additional proteins required for the activation of the period gene, as well as for the mechanism by which light can synchronize the clock.

Rosbash explained that the day-night cycle was the original environmental influence on humans and other living beings.

Before the atmosphere has its current constitution and before nutrition was anything like it is today, the Earth rotated on its axis and the light-dark cycle impinged on the beginnings of life,” he said Monday in an interview with Nobel officials.

Rosbash added that when he received the predawn call from Stockholm, he was so shocked that his wife had to remind him to breathe.

Young, too, said he struggled to digest the news.

I’d go and I’d pick up the shoes, and then I’d realize I need the socks,” he said during a news conference. “And then I realized I needed to put my pants on first.

The award brings the number of U.S.-born Nobel laureates to 259.

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