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Dr Akhilesh Reddy - What makes us tick?

A team of scientists, led by St John’s College Fellow, Dr Akhilesh Reddy, has shed new light on the internal 24-hour clock of all life – from humans to algae.

The 24-hour (circadian) rhythm of our bodies has always been assumed to be connected with DNA and gene activity. The first study conducted by Dr Reddy’s team found, for the first time, that red blood cells also operate on a 24-hour cycle; this is particularly important because red blood cells do not contain DNA.

A second study identified a similar circadian rhythm acting in marine algae. Even when the algae were kept in darkness, to deactivate their DNA, their internal clocks continued to tick.

This research expands our understanding of the 24-hour rhythm in all life and suggests that it is more important, and more sophisticated, than previously thought.

Disrupted body-clocks are known to be linked to many illnesses, including mental health problems and cancer. By better understanding our internal rhythm we may find new ways to treat these health problems in the future.

More detailed information can be found on the Cambridge University website and the Nature journal website. The research features in Nature 469 (27 January 2011).

You can also listen to an outline of the significance of these findings as broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and visit Dr Akhilesh Reddy's profile.