Research on Biological Rhythms Wins Acclaim

Michael Robash
Photo by Mike Lovett
Michael Robash

For decades, biologists Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall conducted groundbreaking research into the molecular basis of circadian rhythms, bringing to light insights into the brain, health and sleep disorders.

Now, almost like clockwork, the deep impact of their research is being honored with a slew of prizes and widespread recognition.

In October, at a gathering in Rapaporte Treasure Hall, Rosbash, a longtime investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the director of Brandeis’ National Center for Behavioral Genomics, was named the inaugural Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience. The chair is supported by the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation.

“I don’t think there’ll be any subsequent recipients because I have absolutely no intention of retiring or dying,” Rosbash announced to a standing-room-only audience.

Two months earlier, Rosbash and Hall, who became professor emeritus in 2007 — along with Professor Michael Young of the Rockefeller University in New York — were awarded the Massry Prize for their discoveries related to biological rhythms. Since the award was created in 1996, nine recipients have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

The Massry is the fourth major award for the trio’s research into circadian rhythms using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. They have also won the prestigious Canada Gairdner Award, that nation’s foremost international scientific honor. Last year, they were awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University. And in 2009, the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation awarded them its Neuroscience Prize.

“Michael and his colleagues discovered the genetic basis for biological rhythms fundamental to life because they control when we sleep and are wakeful, how we absorb food and expend energy and how well we resist disease,” said Provost Steve A.N. Goldstein when the Massry Prize was announced. “His work shows how basic science can both explain and improve the human experience.”

— Susan Chaityn Lebovits