How does a plant know when to sprout a leaf, fold its petals or bloom? Why do humans experience jet lag after a trip abroad?
The answer is the internal circadian clocks that are present in nearly every organism and that respond to external cues such as light and temperature, says chemist Brian D. Zoltowski, Southern Methodist University.
Zoltowski's lab at SMU studies one of the many proteins involved in an organism's circadian clock. Called a photoreceptor, the protein responds to light to predict time of day and season by measuring day length.
The photoreceptor protein enables plants to know when spring and fall occur and to produce flowers or fruit at the appropriate time of year, says Zoltowski, an assistant professor in SMU's Department of Chemistry. The protein also allows plants to collect energy during the day in the scientific process called photosynthesis, and then refocus energy to grow at night.
Human photoreceptors also are intricately involved in regulation of the body's circadian clocks. They have been implicated in the development of cancer and diabetes, as well as neurological illnesses.
"If we can better understand how these proteins work, we can potentially re-engineer them or develop small molecules to regulate flowering times, plant growth and development," Zoltowski says. "By extension, we can potentially design therapeutics for the human circadian clocks."
The Herman Frasch Foundation for Chemical Research Grants in Agricultural Chemistry awarded Zoltowski a five-year $250,000 agricultural chemistry grant to fund the plant research. The foundation is administered by the American Chemical Society.
A natural 24-hour biological mechanism for regulating the body
The circadian clock is an internal biological mechanism that responds to light, darkness and temperature in a natural 24-hour biological cycle. The clock synchronizes body systems with the environment t
|Contact: Margaret Allen|
Southern Methodist University