Genes Be­hind ‘Early Birds’ and ‘Night Owls’

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Health - BY SAM BEN­SON SMITH

A TEAM OF GE­NETI­CISTS from the Univer­sity of Le­ices­ter con­ducted a study that seems to have pin­pointed the DNA dif­fer­ence be­tween morn­ing peo­ple and night owls. The re­search in­volved analysing nearly 80 different genes re­lat­ing to cir­ca­dian rhythms in fruit flies, ideal test sub­jects due to their ge­netic sim­i­lar­ity to hu­mans.

The study found that the fruit flies fell into two dis­tinct groups ge­net­i­cally: so-called ‘early birds’ or ‘larks’, which are flies that emerge from their pu­pal case in the morn­ing, and so­called ‘owls’, which are flies that emerge from their pu­pal case in the evening. The tim­ing of the emer­gence is reg­u­lated by the

fly’s cir­ca­dian rhythm. One of the note­wor­thy find­ings of the re­search was that the ge­netic dif­fer­ence be­tween the larks and the owls was un­re­lated to the ‘clock genes’ which are typ­i­cally thought to be re­spon­si­ble for reg­u­lat­ing the body’s cir­ca­dian rhythm. Two large swaths of ge­netic code in both fly groups are now thought to be re­spon­si­ble for the dif­fer­ence be­tween larks and owls in flies, and, in turn, morn­ing peo­ple and night owls in hu­mans. The re­searchers have pub­lished their find­ings in the jour­nal Fron­tiers in Neu­rol­ogy, and will now in­ves­ti­gate where these genes are in­volved in sim­i­lar pro­cesses in hu­mans.

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