Probing Chemical Timekeeping | January 31, 2011 Issue - Vol. 89 Issue 5 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 5 | pp. 44-45 | Concentrates
Issue Date: January 31, 2011

Probing Chemical Timekeeping

Scientists find a new role for posttranslational modification in circadian rhythms
Department: Science & Technology
Keywords: circadian rhythms, molecular clocks

Our internal clocks may be a pain for frequent flyers dealing with jet lag, but the timekeeping helps us regulate metabolism so that we efficiently use energy when we are awake or asleep. Researchers based in the U.K. and France now report that such cellular timekeeping—also known as circadian rhythms—involves a previously unknown cycle of posttranslational modifications, in addition to the transcription of a well-known handful of clock genes. Better understanding of circadian rhythms may help scientists optimize the efficiency of cellular metabolism and allow them to, for example, engineer better biofuel-producing algae and monitor metabolic diseases such as diabetes. According to Akhilesh B. Reddy of the University of Cambridge, Andrew J. Millar of the University of Edinburgh, and coworkers, cellular timekeeping involves a repetitive sequence of oxidations and reductions of a cysteine thiol on a peroxiredoxin protein (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature09654; DOI: 10.1038/nature09702). The team showed that circadian rhythms are maintained without transcription in red blood cells—which don’t have a nucleus and therefore can’t transcribe—and in a model alga in which transcription had been turned off with a chemical inhibitor. “The research is provocative and inventive,” says Joseph T. Bass, a medical researcher at Northwestern University. “The work opens up new questions concerning the origins and functions of molecular clocks.”

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