The discovery of the period gene mutants in 1971 provided the first evidence that daily rhythms in the sleep–wake cycle of a multicellular organism, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, had an underlying genetic basis. Subsequent research has established that the biological clock mechanism in flies and mammals is strikingly similar and functions as a bimodal switch, simultaneously turning on one set of genes and turning off another set and then reversing the process every 12 h. In this chapter, the current model of the clock mechanism in Drosophila will be presented. This relatively basic model will then be used to outline the general rules that govern how the biological clock operates in mammals.

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