Even fungus can get jet lag

Illustration for article titled Even fungus can get jet lag

When you fly between time zones, your circadian rhythms are thrown awry, and the grogginess and fatigue of jet lag kicks in. Norwegian researchers have determined that jet lag isn't limited to humans and can even affect the common mold.

Researchers from the University of Stavanger used Neurospora crassa — better known as the red bread mold — which is a fungus with a fully-mapped genome. The researchers hope that a greater understanding of the mold's circadian rhythms will offer further insights into how humans can adapt to jet lag:

Once every 24 hours, the red bread mould produces a new generation of spores called conidia. The mould is governed by a 24 hour circadian rhythm, controlled by its genes. This circadian rhythm will proceed, even if the fungus is kept in constant darkness in a laboratory. Lacking light as a zeitgeber or time giver, the fungus adjusts its period length to approximately 22 hours. The researchers have carried out different experiments, in which they have altered the duration of the fungus' exposure to light and darkness. The mould has adapted to the new patterns, although it may need some time to adjust. It is, in fact, suffering from jet lag.

"Jet lag is actually a phase change. If the fungus is transferred to a different time zone, it will adapt to its new environment and the new time. As with humans, this process will take some time, and the fungus may become a little stressed. The great thing about the internal clock is that the fungus will adapt its crucial cellular processes to its new environment," says [researcher Ingunn W. Jolma].


The researcher fed the molds a specific protein that causes the emission of bioluminescence and recorded how this light emission differed in the molds that had their circadian rhythms altered. You can read more at the University of Stavanger.

[Photo credit: Elisabeth Tønnessen]

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Chip Overclock®

The 22 hour cycle when in complete darkness rings a bell. Googling didn't turn anything up, but I dimly recall hearing of experiments (possibly having to do with long term space flight or nuclear holocaust survival) in which humans left devoid of any time keeping also adjusted to an approximately 22 hour cycle. My senile and fragile memory tells me the subjects were leaving deep underground in a natural cave, and the researchers were careful not to give them any clues as to the actual clock time.

So, SF authors, here's a question: HTF did we end up with an innate 22 hour daily cycle?

Wikipedia has this

"The simplest known circadian clock is that of the prokaryotic cyanobacteria. Recent research has demonstrated that the circadian clock of Synechococcus elongatus can be reconstituted in vitro with just the three proteins of their central oscillator. This clock has been shown to sustain a 22-hour rhythm over several days upon the addition of ATP. Previous explanations of the prokaryotic circadian timekeeper were dependent upon a DNA transcription/translation feedback mechanism."


[en.wikipedia.org] .