As a self-proclaimed night owl, I’ve often wondered if I might actually be part vampire. Some days it doesn’t seem like my brain starts working until the sun goes down, and that can have an adverse effect on you life in more ways than one. Sure, it makes for an interesting and diversified social life at times, but having a backwards circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) had been linked to all sorts of medical issues from obesity to cancer.
In an effort to understand the working of the internal human clock, a team of geneticists from the University of Leicester have been studying the DNA of fruit flies to get an idea of the genetic makeup of early risers (larks) and late-nighters (owls). The researchers chose fruit flies because, surprisingly enough, they actually share about 80% of their DNA with humans. They are not susceptible to any kind of behavioral influence like humans, so when it comes to linking DNA and behavior, they are the perfect test subject. In this study, the fruit flies were divided based on when they emerged from their pupal state, which is linked to their natural internal clocks. The researchers found a significant difference in the DNA of the flies that emerged early in the day and the flies that emerged late at night.
The lead researcher, Eran Tauber, described the phenomenon as being similar to a pinball machine. “Once a gene expression is delayed (in Larks), a completely different cascade of molecular events is carried, similar to the ball in a pinball machine that takes a different route in each run.
The end point might be similar, but the different molecular routes result in a different journey time.” Tauber’s team is working to find out exactly which genes work to regulate our internal clocks to better treat circadian rhythm disorders. I, for one, am interested in seeing what they conclude in their research because I know how much having a normal sleep cycle would benefit me in my everyday life.
Knowing that there may be a genetic answer, in fruit flies at least, in encouraging news.