Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbach and Michael Young have won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for "their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm".
Those who travel the world will recall the uncomfortable feeling of adjusting their internal clocks to a new time zone. These so-called circadian rhythms affect everything from our behaviour to how well we sleep or convert food to energy.
In the 1970s, Seymour Benzer and Ronald Konopka identified an unknown gene, which they nicknamed "period", that messes up the circadian rhythms of fruit flies. But they couldn't isolate it.
In 1984, Hall and Rosbach at Brandeis University in Boston and Young at Rockefeller University in New York isolated the "period" gene, the first such gene found for controlling circadian rhythms. In later research, Hall and Rosbach found that the amount of proteins it produces when activated built up at night and broke down during the day, moving in sync with circadian rhythm.
The researchers also discovered other genes and proteins involved with circadian rhythms, as well as how light helps set them.
It eventually turned out that these clocks work similarly in not only fruit flies, but also other organisms with multiple cells, including humans.
Roberto Refinetti, a psychologist at Boise State University in Idaho, told The Register: "You learn from basic principles [in fruit flies] then do further [work] through other models," such as mice or humans.
"It starts telling us what are the basic mechanisms for this variation," he added. ®