News & AnalysisCell Biology

Telling Time Without Turning On Genes

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Science  28 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6016, pp. 391
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6016.391

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Researchers have identified a host of genes and proteins that help track time, controlling daily cycles of sleep and wakefulness, hunger, and metabolism in dozens of organisms and cell types. Most of the timekeepers discovered so far have depended on gene transcription, the process in which cells use the information stored in genes to make proteins, to drive the complex feedback loops of molecules that make up a cell's internal clock. Now researchers have found evidence—in people and in algae—for a eukaryotic circadian clock that works independently of gene activity. This protein-based timekeeper might represent an evolutionarily ancient way of keeping cellular time.