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Transcript: Live Chat with SA Blogs Editor Bora Zivkovic on Clocks, Metabolism and Evolution

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Circadian rhythms and disrupted sleep cycles were the hot topics during a live 30-minute chat that I hosted on Friday, June 1, with SA Blogs Editor Bora Zivkovic. An edited transcript follows. Thanks to SA Senior Product Manager Angela Cesaro for technical support. (For further reading on circadian rhythm research, you can start by looking at Bora’s recent post on papers presented at the recent biannual meeting of the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms.)

Lloyd: Hi, all. Welcome to our live chat on chronobiology with Bora Zivkovic, SA’s blogs editor and a chronobiologist himself.

Zivkovic: Welcome everyone!

Lloyd: I’m Robin Lloyd, SA’s news editor. I’ll be hosting but Bora is the star of this show. Bora wrote a round-up of recent chronobio papers http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/a-blog-around-the-clock/2012/05/30/clocks-metabolism. Bora, what were some of the issues that you thought were key from the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms’s recent biannual meeting?

Zivkovic: I could not attend the meeting in person this year, unfortunately, but I am in touch with several of my old colleagues and I was given heads-up on a number of papers slated to get published just before the meeting. What struck me from the papers and the abstract book is how much the field is moving up the levels, away from pure gene-discovery and up to neural networks and more.

Mistersugar: My natural state: sleep deprived, staying up late, working on projects you conceive. What can I learn from the recent research?

Zivkovic: Probably the most interesting paper, @mistersugar, is by Till Roennenberg’s group in Germany. They studied many thousands of people in Europe and found that most have what they call ‘social jetlag’. This means that light-dark cycle tells the body clock when to time sleep, but society gives different time clues. This leaves the body in a state of perpetual jetlag, like traveling across several time zones each day. Some people are early birds, others latenight owls, and some are in-between or flexible. But society has a one timeline for all, adapted only for early birds, placing night owls into perpetual sleep debt.

Timwillson: I love Till’s work. But what do you think are the recommendations for the general public?

Zivkovic: @timwillson – chronobiology is growing, more and more classes taught. But not big enough for a whole department. Also, it permeates all of biology, so it’s hard to separate it from the rest of biology.

Chiasmata: Chronobiology is very interesting and important but it is rarely a focus in academic programs, why? The misalignment of bio and social clocks, why is society fit for the lark?

Zivkovic: @Chiasmata – good question, which a historian can probably answer better, but started in industrial revolution. Light bulbs, factory hours, 16-hour workdays.

Chiasmata: Blue light suppresses melatonin which signals sleep in us.

Joanne Manaster: We’re lucky at University of Illinois to have (or have had) folks who work in chronobiology, and I was fortunate to take a few very good courses.

Robert Paczula: In the U.S., work and school schedules have developed around farming which generally is a ‘start before the sun does’ kind of job. At least that is my understanding (I’m just a layman in these things).

Carmelwallis: It’s 2am here, I’m a definite night owl, staring at my computer screen and subsequently I’m wondering how precisely blue light impacts sleep cycles?

Zivkovic: @Carmelwallis yes, intense blue light is the best way to reset one’s clock if indoors and fighting social jetlag.

Lloyd: SA editor George Musser touched on questions around blue light in this blog post: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/solar-at-home/2011/03/21/a-better-kind-of-lightbulb/

Timwillson: Its unlikely that we can change societal behavior, but do you believe in changing indoor lighting can help?

Zivkovic: Intense indoor lighting is still 100 to 1,000 times less intense than bright sunshine. Batteries of blue light and strict adherence to sleep/meals/exercise schedules can help one rest to social time. Lots of studies show a higher incidence of cancer etc. in shift workers. Light is stronger. Food and exercise can help along, but not overcome against light cues.

Timwillson: I read that late night use of iPads is a problem—strong blue light. Is there any data to back that up?

Zivkovic: @timwillson – yes, there are now apps for iPad to dim the light and eliminate blue parts of the spectrum.

Joanne Manaster: I received a book from Richard Hansler called Great Sleep! Reduced Cancer! Know the man and works? There’s a photo of those orange-lensed goggles on the cover of the book. He sent it to me after I reviewed ‘The City Dark’ about light pollution.

Zivkovic: I’m not familiar with Richard Hansler’s book, sorry :-( I will have to check it out, Joanne. I suggest new Till Roennenberg’s book which I just started.

Joanne Manaster: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/psi-vid/2012/04/16/the-city-dark/ A movie worth seeing if you care about light pollution

Zivkovic: I think I linked to it in my post last week

Murphyod: (Joined late) so blue light from late night use of iPads can in fact alter sleep patterns if done on a regular basis?

Zivkovic: Murphyod – yes, that is correct. Even as I am constantly in front of the screen, I try to stay away from any screens the last 30 minutes or so of the day.

Murphyod: Wow! I honestly did not know that! Do you have a blog post (provide link) where you wrote that up? Thanks!

Ivo Veletiƒá: Hi Bora! I have a bit different question if you don’t mind…Has there been any progress in unmasking the recently discovered metabolic clock in our cells?

Zivkovic: Ivo – LOTS of recent work is on the close connection between the clock and metabolism. It is even more intimate than we suspected even a decade ago.

Chiasmata: Is the TTFL model set to crumble given the amount of gaps in the model?

Zivkovic: @chiasmata – TTFL is here to stay, it is solid, but it is not the only part of the equation. Focus should be to expand TTFL to include the rest of the cell, cell-cell interactions and more.

Chiasmata: So would it be integrated with non-transcriptional loops? Such as the Kai system of syneccocus?

Ivo Veletiƒá: Bora, I’m particularly interested in peroxiredoxin clock you wrote about :) Is there something new?

Robert Paczula: I’ve heard to not keep hitting the snooze button since you never get a full sleep cycle in. Does that mean that those snooze periods do no good, or are they actually detrimental in some way?

Zivkovic: Ha, snooze button! The pressure is to get up so keep hitting the button until you are ready to get up, too late by then to get more quality sleep ;-)

Zivkovic: Ivo and Chiasmata—that is the most exciting finding of the past year or so—much work will be done. Having the red blood cell and protist work replicated in many other organisms is really exciting.

Chiasmata: It’s certainly an interesting field, one which receives far too little attention. In particular integrating the circadian work with whole-organism physiology and behaviour.

Murphyod: Agreed, chiasmata! =)

Zivkovic: Yes, though much better than a decade or two ago—the media finds clocks and sleep quite sexy, and the coverage is not that bad in the media either. And then I do my best with my blog.

Chiasmata: @Robert I like this idea.

Robert Paczula: Can blue light and screens be utilized as alarm clocks for a more effective waking method?

Zivkovic: @Robert Paczula – there are now timers that gradually increase the intensity of light before wakeup time.

Lloyd: A question from G-plus, PJ Amiddon asks: What is the best way to reset your body clock when you have jet lag?

Zivkovic: @PJ Amiddon – expose yourself to outdoors light after travel, walk, eat at local times, exercise.

Ivo Veletiƒá: I’m looking forward to these new findings, and your blog is really great btw :)

Lloyd: A question on Gplus, from Joseph Proffer q: how do cells recognize Zeitgeber cues in relation to Circadian rhythms? Especially keeping in mind that the length of a day was much shorter the further back in time we look?

Zivkovic: @Joseph Proffer – in mammals, all the light information to the clock comes from the eyes, ganglion cells that contain melanopsin photopigment.

Murphyod: In a college course, I remember the prof mentioning taking a pill to reset your internal clock to the new time zone?

Zivkovic: Murphyod – that must be a melatonin pill. Yes, it can be used, but with consultation with a specialist on timing

Chiasmata: These live chat sessions are very good, more please! :)

Lloyd: Thanks, Chiasmata. The plan is to have one once/week. What other topics or people should we feature? Should we make them technical (like this one) or more general? Or both?

Chiasmata: @Robin Mental illness, structural biology, astrobiology, behaviour. Kind of biased towards biology I know.

Joanne Manaster: This would be great to get to know all SciAm bloggers and learn more about the topics they cover!

Robert Paczula: You may want to start with more general to appeal to a wider audience, then go to more technical once it becomes established.

Chiasmata: Neurobiology at any level of organisation.

Lloyd: Thanks, Chiasmata. Will take note of those suggestions. We like bio topics too.

Coopernyc: @Robin – epigenetics

Lloyd: Thx. Robert. Yes, our next chat will be on transit of Venus. Wider appeal. SA editor George Musser will be the guest.

Joanne Manaster: I agree with Robert, go broad, let people get to know the bloggers and topics, then go specific.

Murphyod: that’s another interesting area, seasonal affective disorder?

Zivkovic: Yes: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/a-blog-around-the-clock/2011/09/26/seasonal-affective-disorder-the-basics/

Lloyd: Yes, Joanne. I’d like to feature all of the SciAm bloggers so audience can interact with them.

Zivkovic: Yes, George Musser next week about Transit of Venus, then we can get all our bloggers here.

Lloyd: I’ll try to work up a transcript of this chat and post it soon. Thanks, all. We should probably give Bora a break from frantic typing.

Murphyod: Wonderful idea =) could go along w/ the pieces Bora does featuring/introducing each one of the regulars. Bye! Thanks!

Lloyd: The transit of Venus chat will be at 3 pm Eastern on Tuesday, June 5, as a run-up to transit itself later that evening. So we will see you all then.

Zivkovic: Thank you all – great questions.

Joanne Manaster: I’m sure Bora can handle frantic typing. He lives at the keyboard. :) Will totally promote next chat! Sounds fun!

Chiasmata: Thanks for this :)

Coopernyc: yes – thank you!

Lloyd: Thanks everyone for participating. Fun and informative chat. Good to meet new people.

Robin Lloyd About the Author: Robin Lloyd is the news editor at Scientific American, where she assigns and edits online stories, oversees the Web site's home page and rewrites a lot of headlines. Follow on Twitter @robinlloyd99.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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