Researchers also discovered a diverse set of genes that regulate the human body’s circadian rhythms, which help to align a number of biological processes with both day-night and seasonal cycles.
Scientists were able to identify the network of “clock genes,” described Tuesday in the journal Applied Physics Reviews, using an advanced statistical model.
The authors of the new paper aim to figure out how human clock genes interact to affect circadian rhythms with the help of geneticists, biologists, and medical experts.
Scientists can eventually be able to change the way a person’s clock genes are expressed in order to change their sleep habits.
“If we understand the gene for a night owl, we can develop a drug to activate that gene for an early bird who has to live a lifestyle like a night owl,” study author Rongling Wu, director of Penn State University’s Center for Statistical Genetics, said in a press release.
Since the body’s internal clocks work at both small scales, inside individual cells, and large scales, through whole physiological processes, unravelling the interactions between various clock genes and circadian rhythms is challenging.
As a result, scientists switched to advanced statistical mechanics.
“The implementation of sophisticated statistical models into genetic mapping studies can not only identify key clock genes or clock quantitative trait loci, but also, more importantly, reveal a complete atlas of the genetic control mechanisms constituted by gene interactomes,” the researchers wrote.
Sleep is important for human wellbeing, and scores of studies have found correlations between impaired circadian cycles and depression, anxiety, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
A recent research also discovered that working night shifts would prematurely age the brain.
Other experiments also shown the importance of circadian cycles in other living species such as flies, plants, and even bacteria.
Plant clock genes, according to scientists, may be modified to improve crop resilience and development.
For example, researchers could alter the clock genes of a less versatile crop variety to help it grow more efficiently in a broader range of climates and latitudes, where sunlight and day length varies.
“We can increase our production,” Wu said. “If we can activate the correct gene, we can use all of that time. But we need to bring together different researchers from other fields to better understand such a complex problem.”