The Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine 2013 is awarded to Jeffrey C Hall, Professor Emeritus of Brandeis University, Michael Rosbash, Professor of Biology and Investigator of HHMI at Brandeis University, and Michael W Young, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor at Rockefeller University for their discovery of molecular mechanisms underlying circadian rhythms.
We are all familiar with biological rhythms, whether in our own regular sleepiness at bedtime and the distressing effects of jet lag or the behavior of flowers that open by day and close at night. Indeed, these daily (circadian, latin for ‘about a day’) rhythms have been known throughout history, but the nature of the underlying clock had remained obscure until studies on the fruit fly by the late Seymour Benzer uncovered a gene that could be mutated to make the clock run faster or slower or not at all. In itself, this did not explain anything about how the clock worked, but it opened the door for this year’s Shaw Prize laureates, Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young, who conducted a series of groundbreaking studies on the mutant fruit flies, uncovering the molecular mechanisms that control circadian rhythms not only in flies, but, remarkably, also in humans.
An Essay on the Prize
Circadian rhythms of activity and physiology are evident across the animal kingdom as well as in plants and some bacteria. The scientific study of biological clocks goes back almost 300 years to a French astronomer called Jean-Jacques d'Ortous De Mairan, who discovered that the diurnal closing of Mimosa leaves persisted under conditions of constant darkness. Whether this was due to mysterious “magnetic rays”, or to the presence of an equally mysterious internal clock in the plant was controversial, but it later became clear that light-independent twenty-four hour clocks could also be found in animals. The mechanisms underlying such clocks were a long-standing puzzle until the Shaw Prize Laureates of 2013, Jeffrey C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W Young discovered two key components of the endogenous clock mechanism of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Over the course of the last twenty-five years, thanks to the work of these pioneers, details of the clock mechanism in animals have steadily emerged. It is a much more complicated molecular machine than any theorist had imagined.
The crucial first step for the molecular understanding of biological clocks came in 1971, when Ronald Konopka and Seymour Benzer identified three mutant strains of fruit flies that showed heritably altered circadian rhythms. Mapping the mutations revealed a single gene, Period, or Per, that could be mutated to give either shorter or longer cycles of activity, or no rhythmic activity cycles at all. Clearly, Per was intimately connected with the clock. But how the clock worked could only be a matter for speculation until the Per gene was cloned, a challenging feat that was achieved in 1984 by Michael Young at Rockefeller University and, independently, by a collaboration between Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash at Brandeis University. But the deduced protein sequence of Per did not at first reveal its nature or function.
Jeffrey C Hall
Jeffrey C Hall was born in 1945 in Brooklyn, New York, USA and is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Brandeis University, Waltham, USA. He obtained his PhD in Genetics in 1971 from the University of Washington, Seattle, did postdoctoral work at the California Institute of Technology and joined the faculty at Brandeis University in 1974 where he rose to the rank of Professor in 1986. After retiring from Brandeis, he joined the faculty of the University of Maine in Orono from which he retired some years ago. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
28 May 2013 Hong Kong
Michael Rosbash was born in 1944 in Kansas City, Missouri, USA and is currently Professor of Biology and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Brandeis University. He obtained his PhD in Biophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1970, did postdoctoral work at the Institute of Animal Genetics, the University of Edinburgh, UK (1972–1974). He then joined Brandeis University, where in the Department of Biology he was successively Assistant Professor (1973–1980), Associate Professor (1980–1986) and Professor (1986–); he has held the Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience since 2012. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences.
28 May 2013 Hong Kong
Michael W Young
Michael W Young was born in 1949 in Miami, Florida, USA and is currently Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor at the Rockefeller University. He obtained his PhD in genetics at the University of Texas at Austin in 1975, had postdoctoral training in the Stanford University School of Medicine (1975–1977) and joined Rockefeller University in 1978 where he has held the Richard and Jeanne Fisher Chair since 2004. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences.
28 May 2013 Hong Kong
"Everybody's a Dreamer, and Everybody's a Star" by Professor Jeffrey C Hall
"The Circadian Feedback Loop: Twenty Years and Counting" by Professor Michael Rosbash