"" Writer's Wanderings: The Circadian Clock - A Traveler's Curse?

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Circadian Clock - A Traveler's Curse?

Reading through some helpful articles on jet lag I ran across a reference to the discovery of a gene that regulates the adaptation of the body to a new time zone. If scientists can discover how it works and how to get around it, they may be able to come up with a medication to eradicate or at least improve the effects of jet lag. It all involves something called the circadian clock. Huh?

The circadian clock is a 24 hour cycle that tells us when to wake or to sleep. Most life forms operate by it. When I read that, I thought about migrating birds. Maybe that's why they always go north-south. There's no time change involved there.

The internal clock responds to light and when we cross several time zones in a hurry as we do when we fly by plane, the clock gets out of whack. To quote the article in Business Insider, "The circadian clock is governed by an area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN), which in turn receives information from a specialised system in the eyes which detects environmental light, according to the report in the journal Cell."

The scientists were able to tinker with some of the genes in mice that respond to light and one in particular that would reset the circadian clock. The mice responded well when the scientists blocked the one gene. Much more research is needed of course but I'll bet those mice will be much less jet lagged than the rest of us.

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