The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation proudly presents the 2009 Neuroscience Prize to Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young for their pioneering discoveries of molecular mechanisms that control circadian rhythms in the nervous system.
These investigators established that in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster circadian rhythms are driven by a transcriptional feedback loop that controls the expression of the period gene. They discovered a set of interacting genes that control this process, including the light-sensing protein that establishes circadian rhythms in response to the day-night light cycle.
Subsequent work by others demonstrated that these findings apply broadly to both invertebrates and vertebrates and that a mutation in the human counterpart of the period gene causes a human circadian sleep disorder. These discoveries reveal a striking solution to the problem of how genes control a higher-order behavior.