Molecular genetics of biological rhythms
Life evolved on our rotating planet and consequently biological rhythms percolate through every aspect of behaviour and physiology. The best known of these rhythms are circadian (24 hour) and are mediated by cycling molecules that were initially identified in the fruitfly and later in mammals. The molecular clockworks are extraordinarily well conserved between insects and vertebrates so the fruitfly and the mouse provide excellent model systems for studying human circadian rhythms. Chronic disruption of humans circadian rhythms leads to a number of well documented health and behavioural problems including increased incidence of some cancers, sleep disorders and depression. I shall describe how the molecular clock works within a cell and how networks of clock neurons then generate the signals that generate rhythmic behaviour. I will also describe some recent work using the fly’s clock to study how electromagnetic fields affect behaviour and provide a rational that might explain why living close to power lines has been reported on several continents to slightly increase the incidence of childhood illnesses, including most notably, leukemia.