10.1016/j.cub.2009.09.024

Weather and Seasons Together Demand Complex Biological Clocks

Abstract

SummaryThe 24-hour rhythms of the circadian clock [1] allow an organism to anticipate daily environmental cycles, giving it a competitive advantage [2, 3]. Although clock components show little protein sequence homology across phyla, multiple feedback loops and light inputs are universal features of clock networks [4, 5]. Why have circadian systems evolved such a complex structure? All biological clocks entrain a set of regulatory genes to the environmental cycle, in order to correctly time the expression of many downstream processes. Thus the question becomes: What aspects of the environment, and of the desired downstream regulation, are demanding the observed complexity? To answer this, we have evolved gene regulatory networks in silico, selecting for networks that correctly predict particular phases of the day under light/dark cycles. Gradually increasing the realism of the environmental cycles, we have tested the networks for the minimal characteristics of clocks observed in nature: oscillation under constant conditions, entrainment to light signals, and the presence of multiple feedback loops and light inputs. Realistic circadian gene networks are found to require a nontrivial combination of conditions, with seasonal differences in photoperiod as a necessary but not sufficient component

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