New Timepiece Has a Familiar Ring

Science  04 Sep 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5382, pp. 1429-1430
DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5382.1429

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On page 1519, researchers in Japan describe the workings of the biological clock of the single-celled organisms known as cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. They find that the cyanobacteria clock is based on the same working principle as are those of fruit flies, mammals, and the bread mold Neurospora. At its core is a genetic oscillator, in which a gene produces a protein that accumulates for a while and then feeds back and turns off the gene, causing the protein's concentration to rise and then fall over a roughly 24-hour cycle. But the proteins that make up the cyanobacteria clock are completely different from those of other organisms. By indicating that the clock arose independently during the course of evolution, the results help settle a debate over whether all biological clocks are descended from the same evolutionary ancestor, or whether clocks have arisen more than once.