Center for Biological Clocks Research
Welcome to The Center for Biological Clocks Research at Texas A&M University. The CBCR provides an organizational structure to enhance and coordinate research and education activities among 15 circadian rhythms researchers at Texas A&M University and the Texas A&M University System Health Science Center. The goal of the CBCR is to promote discoveries in the field of chronobiology and to train researchers at all levels and in diverse disciplines, with chronobiology as a research focus.
IN THE NEWS
Dr. Paul Hardin is the John W. Lyons Jr. ’59 Chair and Distinguished Professor of Biology at Texas A&M University, and is internationally recognized as an authority on molecular mechanisms of the circadian clock. Dr. Hardin is our Center for Biological Clocks Research Spotlight this month, sharing his experiences and advice for students in academia!
Dr. Kira Delmore, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University, has been selected to receive a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, a prestigious honor intended to help kick-start the careers of rising faculty with the potential to become academic leaders in both research and education.
Dr. Delmore is the first investigator in Texas A&M Biology to be honored with the prestigious award, please take a moment to congratulate Dr. Delmore and read more about her research and award!
Dr. Deborah Bell-Pedersen is the Associate Head of Texas A&M Biology. She is recognized as a leader in investigating the mechanisms by which circadian oscillators control rhythmic gene expression. Dr. Bell-Pedersen is our Center for Biological Clocks Research Spotlight this month, sharing her experiences and advice for students in academia!
Texas A&M Biologists Uncover Protein Essential to Clock Gene Expression Repression in Monarch Butterflies
Scientists have known for several decades that mutations in the period gene which governs rhythmic transcription in mammals can wreak havoc on their circadian, or 24-hour, rhythms. They’ve also long known why, but thanks to Texas A&M University biologists in the Center for Biological Clocks Research (CBCR), scientists now know the how behind the why, courtesy of recent research published in PNAS that points to a new protein, the heat shock protein HSP68, which is also crucial to the tumultuous mix. Please read more about this exciting discovery from Christine Merlin, Jerome Menet and Paul Hardin — and their respective pooled insights across three model organisms: monarch butterflies, mice and fruit flies.
Dr. Terry Thomas University Professor of Biology Deborah Bell-Pedersen was recently recognized as a 2021 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Bell-Pedersen is cited by the Biological Sciences section of the AAAS “for distinguished contributions to the field of molecular biology, particularly using Neurospora to understand genetic controls of circadian rhythms and circadian rhythm controls of gene expression.” Dr. Bell-Pedersen was one of 564 AAAS members honored this year by their peers for their efforts to advance science or its applications. Congratulations Dr. Bell-Pedersen!
The Department of Biology and CBCR welcome new biological clocks faculty
Dr. Jeffrey Jones
Jeff obtained his Ph.D. in 2015 in the lab of Dr. Douglas McMahon at Vanderbilt University where his research focused on the bidirectional relationship between the molecular and electrical rhythms in the brain’s biological clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). After a brief postdoc with Dr. Luis de Lecea at Stanford University to learn in vivo imaging, Jeff joined the lab of Dr. Erik Herzog at Washington University in St. Louis in 2016, where he studied the inputs to and outputs from the SCN that together generate circadian rhythms in behavior and physiology. In 2021, Jeff started his lab in the Department of Biology at Texas A&M.
Circadian (~24 h) rhythms are synchronized to local time by the master circadian pacemaker, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN, with its well-defined inputs (light) and reliable outputs (daily rhythms) is a uniquely advantageous model in which to investigate the fundamental neuroscience question of how genes, neurons, and circuits interact to influence behavior and physiology. Dissecting the circuits that regulate circadian rhythms is also crucial to understand how their disruption contributes to disease. The overarching research goal of the Jones Lab is to understand how circadian output from the SCN is encoded by downstream neurons to ultimately generate diverse endocrine, autonomic, and behavioral rhythms with different phases and waveforms.
Dr. Alex Keene
Alex received his Ph.D. in 2006 from UMass Medical School where he worked in the laboratory of Scott Waddell studying neural circuits underlying memory consolidation. His postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Justin Blau at NYU examined how sleep and metabolic cues are integrated in fruit flies.In 2011 he joined the Department of Biology at University of Nevada, then moved to the Department of Biological Sciences at Florida Atlantic University in 2015.He joined Texas A&M as a Professor and Head of Biology in 2021 where his laboratory studies the genetic basis of sleep in the fruit fly, and the evolution of sleep loss in blind Mexican cavefish.
Neural regulation of sleep, appetite, and energy homeostasis is critical to an animal’s survival and under stringent evolutionary pressure. Flies, like mammals, suppress sleep when starved, providing a system to interrogate interactions between sleep and metabolism. We have performed a large genetic screens to identify novel regulators of sleep-metabolism interactions, and are currently investigating the genes and neural circuits that integrate these processes. As a complementary approach, we have been working to establish Mexican cavefish as a model for the evolution of sleep in a nutrient-poor environment. We have generated comparative brain atlases and whole-brain functional imaging approaches that have identified a reorganization of the hypothalamus and increased slow wave sleep intensity in cavefish. Together this system has potential to identify conserved genetic, physiological, and anatomical mechanisms associated with variable sleep
Dr. Wanhe Li
Dr. Wanhe Li has long been interested in using genetic model organisms to understand animal behavior at the genetic, molecular, and neuronal circuitry levels. Dr. Li received her Ph.D. from the joint program of Molecular and Cellular Biology of Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where she investigated genetic and molecular mechanisms of learning, memory, and age-related memory decline. Her graduate work advanced a novel theory that activation of retrotransposons contributes to memory decline in aged and diseased brains. During her postdoc research, she developed a framework studying the perception of social isolation and the molecular etiology of sleep loss in Drosophila melanogaster under the supervision of Nobel laureate Dr. Michael W. Young at the Rockefeller University. In 2022, she started her laboratory in the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University. The goal of her research program is to uncover mechanistic links between emotional states, biological timing, sleep, and development of chronic diseases using interdisciplinary approaches.
Chronic social isolation and loneliness have profound impacts on public health. Though experimental manipulations have been widely applied to studying sleep/wakefulness and circadian regulation in animal models, how normal sleep is perturbed by social isolation and chronic stress is largely unknown. In 2021, Dr. Li reported that chronically isolated animals exhibit sleep-loss accompanied by overconsumption of food. The observed behavioral changes induced by chronic social isolation stress is linked to neural activities in specific neural circuits in the Drosophila brain. These results resonate with anecdotal findings of loneliness-associated sleep difficulties and hyperphagia in humans, and present a mechanistic link between chronic social isolation, metabolism, and sleep, addressing a long-standing call for animal models focused on loneliness. Future work built upon this model will help us understand the perception of social isolation, the regulation of sleep/wakefulness, and the regulation of metabolism at the intersection of genetics, biological timing, and neurobiology. Furthermore, Dr. Li seeks to apply her findings in stress neurobiology to the field of chronic diseases, and ultimately to establish a genetically tractable model to study the reciprocal relationship between chronic stress and cancer progression. She is named CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research and supported by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) for developing this new and exciting direction of research.
Dr. Shogo Sato
After the Ph.D. training at Waseda University, Japan, Shogo experienced a short-term postdoc training with Dr. Kosaku Uyeda at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he studied the regulatory mechanism of how carbohydrate-regulatory transcription factor ChREBP senses feeding/fasting cycles. In 2015, Shogo joined the laboratory of the late Paolo Sassone-Corsi at the University of California, Irvine, where he studied how circadian clock functions are reprogrammed in response to physiological and environmental changes. In 2021, Shogo started his lab in the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University.
Dr. Sato has a broad research background in circadian biology combined with growing knowledge in biochemistry, epigenetics, and metabolism. Especially during his second postdoctoral career in the laboratory of the late Paolo Sassone-Corsi at UCI, he has been tackling the question of how the circadian clock links to metabolic functions. Dr. Sato demonstrated the circadian control of metabolic pathways is reprogramed by aging, which is rescued by caloric restriction (Sato et al., Cell 2017). More recently, Dr. Sato investigated the time-dependent impact of exercise, revealing exercise at the early active phase (fasted phase) exerts robust metabolic responses in skeletal muscle (Sato et al., Cell Metab 2019) and illustrating the atlas of exercise metabolism unique to different exercise timing (Sato et al., Cell under revision). Lastly, Dr. Sato discovered a novel non-canonical role played by the circadian clock specific to pluripotent stem cells (Sato et al., in preparation). Taken together, his past/ongoing studies contribute to the accumulation of evidence underscoring a healthy lifestyle relied on biological clocks.