'Lifestyle, biological clock mismatch linked to diseases'


A variety of metabolic and psychiatric disorders are often said to be associated with disordered sleep and very often with delayed sleep, noted biologist and geneticist Michael Warren Young has said.

Dr. Young had received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, jointly with Jeffrey C. Hall and Michael Rosbash, in 2017 for their discoveries of “molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”.

He received the 38th GITAM Foundation Day Award (2018) at GITAM campus here on Saturday. The annual award carries a citation, plaque and a cheque for Rs. 10 lakh. The award was presented to Dr. Young by GITAM (Deemed to be University) president M.V.V.S. Murthi.

Delivering the Foundation Day address, Dr. Young said: “You and I hold these clocks (biological) in every tissue of our body. The daily rhythm (biological clock) rarely follows the 24-hour clock. They have a species-specific period, which is somewhat shorter or longer than 24 hours due to which they are called circadian (about a day).

The Nobel Laureate gave a PowerPoint presentation on how he and his team had isolated a gene that controls the normal biological rhythm in fruit flies. The gene encodes a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night and is then degraded during the day. The same principles apply to other living organisms including humans.

DSPD syndrome

Dr. Young said that a study on the syndrome called Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD) was being done at his laboratory.

It was found that DSPD was affecting about 5% of the people in the US. The biological clock regulates critical functions such as behaviour, hormonal levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism. “There are indications that a chronic mismatch between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with increased risk of various diseases.”

He said that the findings have made it possible to test whether a particular sleep mutation had effects on other medical problems. He called for greater research in this regard.

GITAM Chancellor K. Ramakrishna Rao recalled his association with Rockefeller University, his higher education at the University of Chicago and also his single room school in his village. He tried to inspire the students saying that they too could attain great heights as they had better privileges. “All that you need is ambition, vision and determination to achieve your goals,” he said.

Vice-Chancellor M.S. Prasada Rao spoke about the achievements of GITAM.

Mr. Murthi presented awards to the best teachers, supporting staff and student speakers.

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