A winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine will give a state-of-the-art lecture titled “Genes Controlling Sleep and Circadian Rhythms” at the plenary session on Friday, Nov. 8.
The speaker, Michael Young, PhD, is Richard and Jeanne Fisher Professor and head of the genetics laboratory at The Rockefeller University in New York City. He is also the university’s vice president for academic affairs.
In the late 1970s, Dr. Young began to use the fruit fly, Drosophila, to explore the molecular bases of circadian rhythms. His laboratory used molecular and genetic screens to identify six genes involved in the formation of a biochemical oscillator with a periodicity close to 24 hours. Interactions among these genes and their proteins contribute to a network of molecular oscillations within most tissues at the level of single cells.
Most of the “clock genes” Dr. Young and his colleagues discovered in Drosophila are also central to the circadian pathways in vertebrates. Mutations in any of these “clock” genes can lengthen or shorten the period of behavioral, physiological, and molecular circadian rhythms, or abolish the rhythms altogether.
Recently, Dr. Young’s laboratory showed that a prevalent human sleep disorder is caused by dysfunction of such a well-conserved circadian clock gene. The researchers identified a gene variant associated with the most commonly diagnosed type of circadian rhythm disorder—delayed sleep phase disorder—which is characterized by a persistent and intractable delay of sleep onset and offset times relative to the societal norm.
Dr. Young has served on many study sections and advisory panels for the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. He is associate editor of the Journal of Biological Rhythms, was associate editor of Neuron, and served on the editorial board of Molecular and Cellular Biology.
Dr. Young’s elected memberships include the National Academy of Sciences, American Philosophical Society, President’s Council of the New York Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Microbiology, and Physiological Society, London (Honorary).
Along with colleagues Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash, he received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries of molecular mechanisms that control circadian rhythms. He has also received the Neuroscience Prize of the Gruber Foundation, Horwitz Prize from Columbia University, Canada Gairdner International Award, Massry Prize from the University of Southern California, Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences, Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine, and Hayaishi Prize from the University of Tokyo.
Dr. Young received a PhD in genetics from the University of Texas, Austin. His graduate work examined gene sizes and distributions in the chromosomes of Drosophila. After postdoctoral work on transposable elements at the Stanford University School of Medicine, he joined Rockefeller in 1978.