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
First SARS-CoV-2 genomes in Austria openly available
03.04.2020 | CeMM Forschungszentrum für Molekulare Medizin der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften
Do urban fish exhibit impaired sleep? Light pollution suppresses melatonin production in European perch
03.04.2020 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
Drops of water falling on or sliding over surfaces may leave behind traces of electrical charge, causing the drops to charge themselves. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz have now begun a detailed investigation into this phenomenon that accompanies us in every-day life. They developed a method to quantify the charge generation and additionally created a theoretical model to aid understanding. According to the scientists, the observed effect could be a source of generated power and an important building block for understanding frictional electricity.
Water drops sliding over non-conducting surfaces can be found everywhere in our lives: From the dripping of a coffee machine, to a rinse in the shower, to an...
90 million-year-old forest soil provides unexpected evidence for exceptionally warm climate near the South Pole in the Cretaceous
An international team of researchers led by geoscientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) have now...
The bacteria that cause tuberculosis need iron to survive. Researchers at the University of Zurich have now solved the first detailed structure of the transport protein responsible for the iron supply. When the iron transport into the bacteria is inhibited, the pathogen can no longer grow. This opens novel ways to develop targeted tuberculosis drugs.
One of the most devastating pathogens that lives inside human cells is Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacillus that causes tuberculosis. According to the...
An international team with the participation of Prof. Dr. Michael Kues from the Cluster of Excellence PhoenixD at Leibniz University Hannover has developed a new method for generating quantum-entangled photons in a spectral range of light that was previously inaccessible. The discovery can make the encryption of satellite-based communications much more secure in the future.
A 15-member research team from the UK, Germany and Japan has developed a new method for generating and detecting quantum-entangled photons at a wavelength of...
Together with their colleagues from the University of Würzburg, physicists from the group of Professor Alexander Szameit at the University of Rostock have devised a “funnel” for photons. Their discovery was recently published in the renowned journal Science and holds great promise for novel ultra-sensitive detectors as well as innovative applications in telecommunications and information processing.
The quantum-optical properties of light and its interaction with matter has fascinated the Rostock professor Alexander Szameit since College.
02.04.2020 | Event News
26.03.2020 | Event News
23.03.2020 | Event News
03.04.2020 | Materials Sciences
03.04.2020 | Life Sciences
03.04.2020 | Life Sciences