Nudibranchs have sleep cycles too

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Nudibranchs have sleep cycles too

December 16, 2012 - 15:29
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Sea slugs go to sleep based on internal clocks. Dr. Jim Newcomb, associate professor of biology at New England College, studied the lion-hooded nudibranch to try to figure out how circadian rhytms in human beings work.

The Hooded Nudibranch, Melibe leonina, is also called the Lion Nudibranch. This mollusk is almost transparent with a slight yellowish-green cast.

Though scientists know that humans have an internal clock that, using the light as a cue, sets and resets itself to control things like falling asleep, the raising and lowering of our body temperatures from day to night, and the slowing of our heartbeats, they don't quite know how that internal clock works on a cellular level.

To try to figure that out, Newcomb has begun researching the lion-hooded nudibranch, a sea slug found in the kelp beds and eel grass that grows in the water along the Pacific coast.

Knowing how circadian rhythm works is important because the body's internal clock impacts everything from productivity at work to disease and disorders. Whether people follow their natural rhythms can impact their health, said Newcomb, but scientists don't yet know why folks who work the third shift are more likely to have heart attacks, or why flying to New Zealand causes the physical and mental symptoms of jet lag to set in. Sea slugs may just help solve that mystery.

Once we find out where the clock is, we can find out how that clock is telling that circuit in the slug that it's now time to swim. We can then take that simple system and extrapolate it to see how it works in humans.

—Dr. Jim Newcomb, New England College.

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