The challenge: How does our internal biological clock control the timing of our bodies throughout the day?
The work: With Drs. Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall, Young discovered that our circadian clocks are regulated by a small group of genes that work at the level of the individual cell. Subtle mutations in any of these genes can accelerate or slow our daily rhythms.
Why it matters: Their discoveries about the biological clock have applications for sleep and appetite disorders. There are also applications for organs such as the brain, liver, lungs and skin, which use the same genetic mechanisms to control their rhythmic activities.
Dr. Young received his PhD in genetics from the University of Texas (1975). He did postdoctoral work at Stanford before moving to Rockefeller. In 1991 he became head of the Rockefeller unit for the National Science Foundation's Science and Technology Center for Biological Timing. He was appointed Vice President Academic Affairs (2004) and was named Richard and Jeanne Fisher Professor the same year.
His work at Rockefeller has focused on two areas: neuromuscular development – stemming from the laboratory's isolation and study of the Notch locus of Drosophila – and the genetics of behavior, particularly circadian rhythms (including initial cloning of the period gene of Drosophila, discovery and functional characterizations of the circadian clock genes timeless, double-time, shaggy, vrille, and pdp1, and modeling of principal molecular features of the Drosophila circadian system).
Dr. Young was an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (1987-1996) and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. Among Dr. Young's awards are the 2009 Neuroscience Prize of the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and the 2011 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize of Columbia University.