Scientists find biological clocks all over the bodies of fruit flies Discovery may change treatments for humans

November 28, 1997|By DALLAS MORNING NEWS

By borrowing glowing chemicals from fireflies and jellyfish, scientists have found that biological clocks -- apparently set by the sun -- exist all over the body of fruit flies.

If the findings, published in the journal Science, hold true for people and animals, researchers will have to change their

thinking about how daily rhythms are set and how to design light treatments for conditions such as jet lag and depression.

Until now, most scientists assumed that the biological clock that drives the daily rhythm of most animals -- including people -- was located in the brain and triggered through the eyes. Researchers didn't expect to see clocks all over the body.

"My God, we saw a surprise," said Steve Kay, the geneticist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., who led the study. "We need a full frontal attack on this clock because it has a wide range of effects on our metabolism and behavior."

The new study focused on a gene named "per" that helps keep a fruit fly's daily clock running.

Studies in mammals, including people, are not as far along as the fruit fly studies. But scientists have shown that the "per" gene, and another gene called "clock," are active in many tissues in mice and humans. It's possible, said Joseph Takahashi, a geneticist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., that light is setting clocks throughout the body, even in internal organs.

"Light can penetrate a lot of skin and tissue," said Takahashi, who is also a researcher with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

If there really are clocks throughout the body, scientists may have reason to believe that new approaches to light treatments may be successful.

Pub Date: 11/28/97

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