Biological Sciences

Nobel award for research pioneer

A winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine is the latest of many laureates with University links.

Professor Michael Rosbash, who was a researcher at Edinburgh in the early 1970s, is one of three scientists recognised for their work in so-called circadian rhythms.

Professor Rosbash, currently of Brandeis University in Waltham, US, shares the 2017 prize with Professor Jeffrey Hall, also of Brandeis, and Professor Michael Young of Rockefeller University.

Daily cycles

The award was made for their discoveries of the molecular mechanisms behind circadian rhythms – the 24-hour cycle that controls sleeping, waking, and other basic processes in people and other living things.

Professor Rosbash undertook a fellowship in genetics at Edinburgh in the early 1970s, before moving to Brandeis in 1974. He holds the Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience at the institution.  

“[I spent] three wonderful post-doc years in Edinburgh, from the personal as well as the professional point of view. I loved the city as well as the UK, and my post-doc mentor John Bishop taught me a lot.”

Professor Michael Rosbash

Circadian rhythms explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological cycles so that they are synchronised with the Earth's revolutions.

With studies in fruit flies, the researchers isolated a gene that controls the daily biological rhythm.

They showed that this gene gives rise to a protein that accumulates in cells during the night, and degrades by day.

Fundamental principles

Subsequently, they identified additional components of this machinery in the form of proteins, and exposed the mechanism governing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell.

It is known that biological clocks function by the same principles in the cells of other organisms, including people.

These laureates unravelled the first, coherent molecular mechanism for a circadian clock, and unquestionably led this field.

Professor Andrew MillarSchool of Biological Sciences

We are delighted at the news of this Nobel Prize award and congratulate Professor Michael Rosbach on his achievement. The University of Edinburgh can be justifiably proud that he has built upon his experience at this University to reach the very top of his profession. 

Professor Sir Timothy O'SheaPrincipal and Vice-Chancellor