The Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine was awarded today for research into biological clocks that was conducted by three American researchers — including Jeffrey Hall, who received his Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Washington back in 1971.
Hall will share the $1.1 million prize with Michael Rosbash, a collaborator of his at Brandeis University; and Rockefeller University’s Michael Young.
The three biologists studied fruit flies to trace the genetic “inner workings” of circadian rhythm, the mechanism that regulates sleep, metabolism and other bodily functions in the course of a day, the Swedish-based Nobel committee said.
“Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions,” the committee said.
Hall, who is now retired in Maine at the age of 72, told the Boston Globe that when he was told about the honor this morning, he didn’t believe it at first.
“I thought it may be a prank,” he said.
He said his research hadn’t always been so well-received. “The approach we were taking was publicly mocked by other researchers,” Hall told the Globe. “We just kept on plugging away. We just kept going.”
In a statement, UW President Ana Mari Cauce said she was “proud to call Jeff an alumnus.”
“The extraordinary work of Jeff and his colleagues has enormous implications not only for human health but for increasing our understanding of all kinds of biological organisms. … We offer him warm congratulations on this highest recognition of his great contributions to knowledge and discovery,” she said.
The next item on the agenda for Nobel week is Tuesday’s physics prize, with the team behind the LIGO gravitational-wave discoveries among the favorites.