Researchers from the School of Medicine, Swansea University took samples from visitors to the Cheltenham Science Festival yesterday (Thursday 5 June 2008) to identify their natural sleep-wake pattern.
“The novel technique we have developed at Swansea is entirely non-invasive, so we can use it at a public event”, explains Sarah Forbes-Robertson, Research Fellow at the School of Medicine, Swansea University. “Previously you needed to take blood samples to obtain the RNA (ribonucleic acid) needed for this type of research. Our technique allows us to get a useable sample just by swabbing the inside of an individual’s cheek.”
A number of different genes control an individual’s ‘natural’ pattern of wake and sleep – otherwise known as their circadian rhythm. The levels of RNA produced by these different genes indicate how active they are at different times of day. One gene known as Per2 produces the highest levels of RNA at around 4am, and is the gene that is associated with sleeping. The gene examined at the Cheltenham Science Festival event, known as REV-ERB, works in opposition to Per2 having its peak activity at around 4pm, and is thought by researchers at Swansea to be the gene associated with wakefulness. Samples were taken at the start (4pm) and end (5pm) of the event at the Cheltenham Science Festival, and are being analysed by the Swansea researchers. Results will be made available to individuals online.
“To get a full and accurate picture of someone’s natural circadian rhythm you would need to take samples four hourly over a full day and night, and also look at all the genes involved,” explains Sarah. “But by taking samples at 4pm and 5pm to assess the activity of the REV-ERB gene, we will be able to see if patterns of peak gene expression are shifted forwards or back in time from the norm of 4pm. If your peak is earlier than 4pm it would indicate that you are a natural early bird, if you peak later than 5pm then you are more of a night owl.”
The novel technique for measuring gene expression is currently only being used by Professor Johannes Thome’s research team in the Department of Neuroscience and Molecular Psychiatry at Swansea, but is opening up this field of research as individuals can take part in research whilst continuing with their normal day and night activities. The technique is the first that allows researchers to look at RNA using these mouth swabs, rather than DNA.
One key finding from this work is that humans differ significantly to mice. “It has always been assumed that human genes would work in the same way as those for mice where two genes Per2 and Bmal1 work in opposition, Per2 peaking for sleep and Bmal1 peaking for wakefulness. However, in humans these genes appear to work together with both peaking around the same time,” explains Sarah.
The researchers are now looking at various conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to see if this may be linked to disturbed circadian rhythms. Further work is being carried out to identify if the activity of these genes can be permanently altered through unnatural sleep patterns – in shift work, for example. The technique will also allow researchers to assess whether jet lag cures, such as melatonin tablets, actually do anything to alter gene expression.
“Gene expression can be altered by external factors, such as jet lag”, says Sarah. “One interesting finding is that food affects gene expression, so after lunch Per2 has a small peak, leading to that post lunch slump.”
The non-invasive technique for measuring gene expression may also have applications in other areas of research. “It has been suggested that chemotherapy for cancer patients may be far more effective if administered at certain times of the day. Our techniques might be able to confirm this and explain why”, says Sarah.
Curiosity has of course led Sarah to research her own circadian rhythms. “My peak of Per2 - the ‘sleep’ gene - is at 6am rather than at the usual 4am. So I really do have a genetic excuse for not being able to manage early morning meetings!”Event Details:
Sallie Robins | alfa
Solving the efficiency of Gram-negative bacteria
22.03.2019 | Harvard University
Bacteria bide their time when antibiotics attack
22.03.2019 | Rice University
DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.
The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...
Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.
The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...
Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.
Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...
The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.
A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...
11.03.2019 | Event News
01.03.2019 | Event News
28.02.2019 | Event News
22.03.2019 | Life Sciences
22.03.2019 | Life Sciences
22.03.2019 | Information Technology