Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Insomniac Flies

Sleep is a not a very well understood physiological process. During the day we are awake and active, but at night we become lethargic and groggy until eventually we fall asleep and the cycle repeats itself. This would lead you, and pretty much everyone else, to believe that sleep is controlled via pathways pertaining to the circadian clock. While this definitely appears to be a large part of what makes us sleep, apparently, it’s not the only part.

Researchers at Rockefeller University claim to have found a gene responsible for sleep in fruit flies. Through infrared technology, researchers were able to see when flies were sleeping and use this information to find sleep-deprived mutants. Comparison between normal-sleeping flies and sleep-deprived flies revealed a gene that may be responsible for this anomaly. This gene, called insomniac, was found to have a profound effect on the amount of time spent sleeping per day. Flies lacking the gene slept for 317 minutes a day compared to the average 927 minutes a day.

This might not seem particularly interesting, but the researchers also believe that insomniac is controlled by a homeostatic pathway, specifically a protein degradation pathway. What this means is that this gene affects the body regardless of the time of day, unlike in circadian mechanisms. Without this gene flies lived only two-thirds as long as their normal counterparts.

Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120220211013.htm

Posted by Michael Thomas (3)


  1. It's fascinating how researchers were able to use infrared technology to observe the flies. I wonder what exactly they were looking at when using this method, (anatomical or physiological signs)? The other major factor is the possibility of this being applicable to humans. If there is in fact a gene that could dictate whether a person suffers from insomnia, steps could be taken to help that person live a more comfortable life. This may even prolong the life of those who get insufficient amounts of sleep as a result of insomnia.

    - Jeff Keating (2)

  2. I definitely want to learn more about this infrared technology. I didn't even know flies slept. This article is very relevant to me and many other college students. I have a really hard time going to sleep but am so tired throughout the day. It's really interesting to know that a lot of research is being done on it and, even though its still in the researching-on-flies stage, the fact that an actual gene has been found is a huge breakthrough. I look forward to seeing where this research goes in the future.

    Posted By Erica Bonnell

  3. Being somewhat nocturnal myself, I find this article very interesting. I always find myself tired during the day but come night time (even if I don't nap during the day) I'm wide awake. I have always assumed it was somewhat genetic because my mom is the same way. Is this the first they are finding out about this gene? I wonder how researchers will test further to see if it plays a role in humans as well as flies.

    Posted by Taylor Pirog

  4. I wonder if there is a gene in humans or other animals that codes for sleep like there is for these flies? So does this mean that people with insomnia have a genetic disease? It is interesting that the gene doesn't effect what time of day these flies get tired or not. It would seem that it would cause what time of day they got tired in but I guess that is just not the case.

    Posted by Nicco Ciccolini

  5. This is particularly interesting because there is little understanding as to why it is necessary to sleep at all. Scientists know that we must to regenerate cellular function but the physiology is not entirely understood. Consider how evolutionarily beneficial it would be for a species to be able to forgo sleep totally. If a species like humans had to sleep roughly 8 hours a day - forgoing sleep without ramifications would give you 50% more time in a day. Imagine the amount of homework that could be done!... Or, the amount of hunting and foraging. Therefore, is not needing a sleep cycle is evolutionarily beneficially and probably strongly selectable for - why does it still exist? Well, it must be necessary and this gene may be a way of finding our why. Cool stuff.

    Posted by William Mohn