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Michael Rosbash

(1944 - )

Michael Rosbash is an American geneticist and chronobiologist. Rosbash is a professor at Brandeis University and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Rosbash's research group cloned the Drosophila period gene in 1984 and proposed the Transcription Translation Negative Feedback Loop for circadian clocks in 1990. In 1998, they discovered the cycle gene, clock gene, and cryptochrome photoreceptor in Drosophila through the use of forward genetics, by first identifying the phenotype of a mutant and then determining the genetics behind the mutation. Rosbash was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2003. Along with Michael W. Young and Jeffrey C. Hall, he was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm".

Michael Rosbash was born in Kansas City, Missouri. His parents were Jewish refugees who left Nazi Germany in 1938. His father was a cantor. Rosbash’s family moved to Boston when he was two years old, and he has been an avid Red Sox fan ever since.

Initially, Rosbash was interested in mathematics but an undergraduate biology course at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and a summer of working in Norman Davidson’s lab steered him towards biological research. Rosbash graduated from Caltech in 1965 with a degree in chemistry, spent a year at the Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique in Paris on the Fulbright Scholarship, and obtained a doctoral degree in biophysics in 1970 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After spending three years on a postdoctoral fellowship in genetics at the University of Edinburgh, Rosbash joined the Brandeis University faculty in 1974.

Rosbash’s research initially focused on the metabolism and processing of mRNA; mRNA is the molecular link between DNA and protein. After arriving at Brandeis, Rosbash collaborated with co-worker Jeffrey Hall[7] and investigated the genetic influences on circadian rhythms of the internal biological clock. They used Drosophila melanogaster to study patterns of activity and rest. In 1984, Rosbash and Hall cloned the first Drosophila clock gene, period. Following work done by post-doctoral fellow, Paul Hardin, in discovering that period mRNA and its associated protein (PER) had fluctuating levels during the circadian cycle, in 1990 they proposed a Transcription Translation Negative Feedback Loop (TTFL) model as the basis of the circadian clock. Following this proposal, they looked into the elements that make up other parts of the clock. In May 1998, Rosbash et al. found a homolog for mammalian Clock that performed the same function of activating the transcription of per and tim that they proceeded to call dClock. Also in May 1998, Rosbash et al. discovered in Drosophila the clock gene cycle, a homolog of the mammalian bmal1 gene. In November 1998, Rosbash et al. discovered the cryb Drosophila mutant, which lead to the conclusion that cryptochrome protein is involved in circadian photoreception.

Major Discoveries

  • 1984: Cloned the Drosophila period gene
  • 1990: Proposed the Transcription Translation Negative Feedback Loop for circadian clocks
  • 1998: Identified the Drosophila Clock Gene
  • 1998: Identified the Drosophila Cycle Gene
  • 1998: Identified cryptochrome as a Drosophila Circadian Photoreceptor
  • 1999: Identified LNV Neurons as the Principal Drosophila Circadian Pacemaker

Current Research

In more recent years, Rosbash has been working on the brain-neuronal aspects of circadian rhythms. Seven anatomically distinct neuronal groups have been identified that all express the core clock genes. However, the mRNAs appear to be expressed in a circadian and neuron-specific manner, which his lab has taken interest in determining whether this provides a link to the distinct functions of certain neuronal groups. He has also researched the effects of light on certain neuronal groups and has found that one subgroup is light-sensitive to lights on (dawn) and another is light-sensitive to lights off (dusk). The dawn cells have been shown to promote arousal while the dusk cells promote sleep.  Rosbash and two of his peers were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work.  

Today, Rosbash continues to research mRNA processing and the genetic mechanisms underlying circadian rhythms.

Rosbash is married to fellow scientist Nadja Abovich and he has a 38-year-old stepdaughter named Paula and 27-year-old daughter named Tanya.

Source: Michael Rosbash, Wikipedia.