In what could be monumentally important for medical science going forward, a group of researchers have nailed down the exact location of our internal clocks — and the internal clock of every living thing, in fact.
Turns out, our circadian rhythm is cell-deep. As in, in our red blood cells, which is weird on its own as red blood cells do not have DNA, and it was thought before that our internal 24-hour timer would be linked to DNA activity.
Two studies were conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland:
For the study, the scientists, funded by the Wellcome Trust, incubated purified red blood cells from healthy volunteers in the dark and at body temperature, and sampled them at regular intervals for several days. They then examined the levels of biochemical markers — proteins called peroxiredoxins — that are produced in high levels in blood and found that they underwent a 24-hour cycle. Peroxiredoxins are found in virtually all known organisms.
This is true for all organisms, and has always been, apparently. "This groundbreaking research shows that body clocks are ancient mechanisms that have stayed with us through a billion years of evolution," said Andrew Millar of the University of Edinburgh. "More work is needed to determine how and why these clocks developed in people — and most likely all other living things on earth — and what role they play in controlling our bodies."
The second study, which focused on algae, found the same activity from peroxiredoxins. We've known about the effects for a long time — just take a long flight somewhere, and you'll be jet lagged on the other side — but we haven't been able to adequately treat disorders caused by offset internal clocks as we didn't fully understand it.
"The implications of this for health are manifold. We already know that disrupted clocks — for example, caused by shift-work and jet-lag — are associated with metabolic disorders such as diabetes, mental health problems and even cancer," the University of Cambridge's Akhilesh Reddy said. "By furthering our knowledge of how the 24-hour clock in cells works, we hope that the links to these disorders - and others - will be made clearer. This will, in the longer term, lead to new therapies that we couldn't even have thought about a couple of years ago."