Magazine article Science News

Gene Differs in Early Birds and Night Owls

Magazine article Science News

Gene Differs in Early Birds and Night Owls

Article excerpt

Some people jump out of bed the minute the alarm sounds or, even more annoying to fans of the snooze button, are already up and exercising, making breakfast, or working. They're the morning people, a perplexing mystery to the night owls, who may not hit their stride until the 11 p.m. news ends.

A team of scientists now suggests that this behavioral split stems, at least in part, from differences in one of the genes that run the body's biological clock, the internal timepiece that helps determine when people feel like sleeping, eating, and performing other activities. In the Sept. 15 SLEEP, the group reports that people who prefer mornings tend to have one version of the gene, while more evening-oriented folks usually have another.

Investigators have recently begun to look at the behavioral impact of polymorphisms, natural variations within a gene (SN: 9/12/98, p. 167). In animals, differences within biological-clock genes can profoundly alter when the creatures perform daily activities such as exercise or sleeping.

Emmanuel Mignot of the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Center in Palo Alto, Calif., and his colleagues looked at a polymorphism in Clock, a gene that encodes a protein crucial to the mammalian biological clock (SN: 7/11/98, p. 24). The researchers hypothesized that differences in the gene's DNA sequence might alter the timing of a person's clock, predisposing them to morning or evening alertness.

They asked 410 people to fill out a questionnaire designed to evaluate timing preferences for sleep and other activities. …

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