Protein in worms may be related to biological clock

by Amber Foley

Humans’ biological clocks and a protein found in a roundworm could be related, according to a new University study.
Ann Rougvie, an assistant professor of genetics and cell biology, along with two University graduate students, found a direct link between the timing mechanism that controls the worm’s development and circadian rhythms in fruit flies, mice and even humans.
The study was published Nov. 5 in the journal “Science.”
“We think that it’s cool because it could be a link between the two different types of timing mechanisms, one that regulates human development and (the other that regulates) circadian rhythms,” said Mili Jeon, a graduate student who worked on the study.
Circadian rhythms are biological cycles that influence human behavior, such as sleep-wake cycles. These cycles in humans, mice and fruit flies are regulated by proteins similar to those in the nematode roundworms that regulate its developmental timing.
Rougvie said the protein similarities in different systems suggest an evolutionary tie between the different systems.
“Thinking that one protein came from another is my favorite theory, but it’s all speculation right now,” Rougvie said.
Heather Gardner, a graduate student and another researcher in the study, said the research might contribute to an explanation or cure for biological timing defects.
“There are examples of people who’s timing has gone bad,” she said.
More developmental research is needed, Jeon said.
“There’s a lot of research about how an eye knows how to become an eye, but not much is known about when an eye becomes an eye,” Jeon said.

Amber Foley covers science and technology and welcomes comments at She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3213.