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Bread Mold Genes Shed Light on Human Internal Clock

Neurospora crassa or bread mold is helping to uncover the secrets of the biological clock.
(Image: © Science Nation, NSF)

This ScienceLives article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

What can bread mold tell humans about themselves? University of Georgia geneticist Jonathan Arnold is on a mission to find out. He studies the biological clock and its influence on organisms. According to Arnold, the biological clock is a fundamental adaptation that helps organisms anticipate the daily light-dark cycle on the planet.  Arnold now studies the complexities of the biological clock by observing the fungus Neurospora crassa, better known as bread mold. Neurospora has about 11,000 genes compared to more than 35,000 in humans. Surprisingly, some 2,400 of the Neurospora genes have been found to have a circadian rhythm, revealing that the biological clock and its wide range of functions could be more important to living things than previously thought. For more on this study, see the Biological Clocks video and the Behind the Scenes web story, The Biological Clock's Incredible Influence Revealed. Below, Arnold answers the ScienceLives 10 questions.

Name: Jonathan Arnold Age: 56 Institution: University of Georgia Field of Study: Systems Biology

1. What inspired you to choose this field of study?   My interest in science was strongly encouraged and made possible by a six week NSF program in biochemistry for high school students at Loomis School in Connecticut.

2. What is the best piece of advice you ever received?   Stay focused on research, and stay healthy.

3. What was your first scientific experiment as a child?   Observing the planets through a 4.5-inch reflector telescope.

4. What is your favorite thing about being a researcher?   Discovering new things about the world around us.

5. What is the most important characteristic a researcher must demonstrate in order to be an effective researcher?  Enjoy doing research and work hard.

6. What are the societal benefits of your research?  The biological clock is a determinant of human health in many ways. The clock is likely to affect human longevity, how we respond to cancer treatment, and has affects on genes that predispose us to heart attacks. These are some of the health consequences of the clock.

7. Who has had the most influence on your thinking as a researcher? Wyatt W. Anderson.

8. What about your field or being a researcher do you think would surprise people the most?  The many ways that the biological clock affects organisms.

9. If you could only rescue one thing from your burning office or lab, what would it be?  My laptop.

10. What music do you play most often in your lab or car? Bach's Goldberg Variations played by Glen Gould.

Editor's Note: This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the federal agency charged with funding basic research and education across all fields of science and engineering. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the ScienceLives archive.