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See Inside July / August 2011

The Sleepy Gene

Scientists pinpoint a key to sleepiness in fruit flies

For many of us, waking up in the morning is the toughest part of the day. It turns out that some flies have the same problem, according to research published this past February in Nature. Neurobiologists at Northwestern University have found a gene in fruit flies with a strong influence on their sleep patterns. After they deleted the gene, flies slept in random intervals and remained less active overall. The gene probably controls the synthesis of a key protein in pacemaker neurons, which regulate the body’s clock. If a similar version of the gene is found in humans, we may gain a new understanding of circadian rhythms—and of why some of us have such a hard time getting out of bed.

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