The environmental light–dark cycle is one of the most reliable rhythmic signals, and many organisms have evolved a circadian (circa diem, ‘about a day’) system to co-ordinate biological processes with this predictable environmental change. These rhythms are endogenous and persist even in constant conditions, the light–dark cycle serving to synchronize these rhythms precisely to 24 hours. Genetic approaches have proved invaluable in increasing our understanding of the circadian clock. The ability to isolate a mutant with a defect in a rhythmic process is a very powerful method, which depends on no prior assumptions about the biological process under investigation. Consequently, Drosophila and the mouse have become the most powerful genetic models to study circadian rhythms in animals. The one alternative vertebrate genetic model system to the mouse is the zebrafish (Danio rerio).

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