Scientists get the measure of how weather shapes our body clocks
20 October 2009
BBSRC-funded scientists have shed light on why our body clocks are so complicated, which could help researchers understand how better to tackle sleep problems caused by shift work or jet lag.
A team led by the University of Edinburgh used computer models to show how internal clocks are shaped not only by the seasons, but also by the weather.
Researchers created models of internal clocks and examined how they worked in different environments. They found that these timekeepers – known as circadian clocks – have to be complex so that they can deal with the effects of varying amounts of light from hour to hour and day to day, as well as the changing seasons.
The findings give researchers a greater understanding of what drives the internal rhythms of people, animals and plants. Environmental signals, such as hours of daylight, affect the daily rhythms which many plants use to control flowering and ripening. The findings may also help scientists develop crops that can cope with climate change.
The study, involving researchers from the California Institute of Technology and University of Warwick, was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and published in Current Biology.
Dr Carl Troein, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who carried out the study, said: “By better understanding why biological clocks are so complex, we stand a better chance of controlling them.
“Our study goes some way to explaining how and why these in-built rhythms have developed. We hope it will be useful in informing treatments for sleep disorders as well as helping scientists develop crops that can survive in the long term.”
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.
The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.
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