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  Chronobiology is a field of science that examines periodic (cyclic) phenomena in living organisms and their adaptation to solar and lunar related rhythms.[1] These cycles are known as biological rhythms. "Chrono" pertains to time and "biology" pertains to the study, or science, of life. The related terms chronomics and chronome have been used in some cases to describe either the molecular mechanisms involved in chronobiological phenomena or the more quantitative aspects of chronobiology, particularly where comparison of cycles between organisms is required.

Chrobiological studies include but are not limited to comparative anatomy, physiology, genetics, molecular biology and behavior of organisms within biological rhythms mechanics.[1]



The variations of the timing and duration of biological activity in living organisms occur for many essential biological processes. These occur (a) in animals (eating, sleeping, mating, hibernating, migration, cellular regeneration, etc), and (b) in plants (leaf movements, photosynthetic reactions, etc.). The most important rhythm in chronobiology is the circadian rhythm, a roughly 24 hour cycle shown by physiological processes in plants and animals. (The term circadian comes from the Latin circa, meaning "around" and dies, "day", meaning "approximately a day."). This and other many other important cycles are also studied, including:

  • Infradian rhythms, which are long-term cycles, such as the annual migration or reproduction cycles found in certain animals or the human menstrual cycle.
  • Ultradian rhythms, which are short cycles, such as the 90-minute REM cycle, the 4-hour nasal cycle, or the 3-hour cycle of growth hormone production. They have periods of less than 24 hours.
  • Tidal rhythms, commonly observed in marine life, which follow the (roughly) 12-hour transition from high to low tide and back.


A circadian cycle was initially discovered, in the 1700s, in the movement of plant leaves by the French scientist Jean-Jacques d'Ortous de Mairan (for a description of circadian rhythms in plants by de Mairan, Linnaeus, and Darwin see this page). In 1751 Swedish botanist and naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (Carl von Linné) designed a floral clock using certain diurnal species of flowering plants. By arranging the selected species in a circular pattern, he designed a clock that indicated the time of day by observing which flowers were open and which ones were closed. For example, he discovered that the hawk's beard plant, opened its flowers at 6:30 am, whereas another species, the hawkbit, did not open its flowers until 7 am.

In 1924 Alexander Chizhevsky, graduate of Medical School at Moscow University, published interdisciplinary works: "Physical factors behind the process of history" and "Epidemiological catastrophes and periodic activity of the Sun" studying cycles in living organisms in connections with solar cycle and cycle of lunar phases. Chizhevsky developed a new discipline, Heliobiology, a branch of Astrobiology. In 1939 Chizhevsky was elected Honorary President of International Congress in Biological Physics, for his 1936 publication The Terrestrial Echo of Solar Storms, 366 pp. 1976, Moscow, (First published in 1936 in Russian: А.Л.Чижевский. Земное эхо солнечных бурь. full text in Russian ). However, soon Chizhevsky was arrested by the Soviet government and exiled to Siberia under the dictatorship of joseph Stalin. Chizhevsky's publications were censored and his 1930s research of blood and electromagnetic parameters of erythrocytes in connection with cycles in human circadian system was banned; it was published in 1973, 40 years later. Chizhevsky's 1928 publication "Influence of Cosmos on human psychoses" was censored in the Soviet Union, albeit in 2003 this work was referenced in Journal of Circadian Rhythms article.

The 1960 symposium at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory seems to define the moment when researchers, as many women as men, from widely different fields discovered that they all were studying the same phenomenon. That well-attended meeting lay the groundwork for the field of chronobiology.

It was also in 1960 that Dr. Patricia DeCoursey invented the phase response curve.

Franz Halberg of the University of Minnesota, who coined the word circadian, is widely considered the "father of American chronobiology". However, it was Colin Pittendrigh and not Halberg who was elected to lead the Society for Research in Biological Rhythms in the 1970s. Halberg wanted more emphasis on the human and medical issues while Pittendrigh had his background more in evolution and ecology. With Pittendrigh as leader, the Society members did basic research on all types of organisms, plants as well as animals. More recently it has been difficult to get funding for such research on any other organisms than mice, rats and humans.[2][3]

More recently, light therapy and melatonin administration have been explored by Dr. Alfred J. Lewy (OHSU) and other researchers as a means to reset animal and human circadian rhythms. Humans can be morning people or evening people; these variations are called chronotypes for which there are various assessment tools and biological markers.

In the second half of 20th century, substantial contributions and formalizations have been made by Europeans such as Jürgen Aschoff and Colin Pittendrigh, who pursued different but complementary views on the phenomenon of entrainment of the circadian system by light (parametric, continuous, tonic, gradual vs. nonparametric, discrete, phasic, instantaneous, respectively; see this historical article, subscription required).

Assessment tools

In 1976, the Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire was developed by Horne and Östberg (1976), to assess whether people are more likely to be maximally alert in the morning or the evening. In their article, they distinguished between morning people and evening people, although other authors sometimes refer to these types as "larks" and "owls" respectively. These authors note how, although distinctions between morning and evening types go back as far as 1900, it was not until the work of Freeman and Hovland (1934) and Kleitman (1939) (cited in Horne and Östberg, 1976) that systematic research began into these different types. Öquist (1970; cited in Horne & Östberg, 1976) produced a Swedish questionnaire to distinguish evening from morning types. This questionnaire was modified by Östberg (1973), and this formed the basis for the English language Morningness - Eveningness Questionnaire of Horne and Östberg (1976). Using this questionnaire, Horne and Östberg found statistically significant differences between evening and morning types in times of retiring to bed and waking, but they did not find statistically significant differences between these two types in terms of sleep length. They also note that age should be considered in assessments of morningness and eveningness, noting how a "bed time of 23:30 may be indicative of a Morning type within a student population, but might be more related to an Evening type in the 40-60 years age group" (Horne & Östberg, 1976, p109). These authors also note how temperature peaks vary between morning and evening types. Since these authors devised their scale, other authors have also developed scales to assess these constructs, and there is some evidence that morningness and eveningness may actually be orthogonal.

Other fields

Chronobiology is an interdisciplinary field of investigation. It interacts with medical and other research fields such as jetlag, sleep disorders, endocrinology, geriatrics, sports medicine, space medicine and photoperiodism.[4][5][6]

The unsubstantiated theory of biorhythms, which is said to describe a set of cyclic variations in human behaviour based on physiological and emotional cycles, is not a part of chronobiology.


  1. ^ a b Patricia J. DeCoursey, Jay C. Dunlap, Jennifer J. Loros (2003). Chronobiology. Sinauer Associates Inc. ISBN 978-0878931491. 
  2. ^ Zivkovic, Bora (2006-07-03). ClockTutorial #2a, Forty-Five Years of Pittendrigh's Empirical Generalizations. A Blog Around the Clock. ScienceBlogs. Retrieved on 2007-12-23.
  3. ^ Zivkovic, Bora (2006-05-17). Clocks in Bacteria V. A Blog Around the Clock. ScienceBlogs. Retrieved on 2007-12-23.
  4. ^ Postolache, Teodor T. (2005). Sports Chronobiology, An Issue of Clinics in Sports Medicine. Saunders. ISBN 978-1416027690. 
  5. ^ Ernest Lawrence Rossi, David Lloyd (1992). Ultradian Rhythms in Life Processes: Inquiry into Fundamental Principles of Chronobiology and Psychobiology. Springer-Verlag Berlin and Heidelberg GmbH & Co. K. ISBN 978-3540197461. 
  6. ^ Hayes, D.K. (1990). Chronobiology: Its Role in Clinical Medicine, General Biology, and Agriculture. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0471568025. 

See also

Research publications

  • Hastings, Michael, "The brain, circadian rhythms, and clock genes". Clinical review. BMJ 1998;317:1704-1707 19 December.
  • U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, "Biological Rhythms: Implications for the Worker". U.S. Government Printing Office, September 1991. Washington, DC. OTA-BA-463. NTIS PB92-117589
  • Ashikari, M., Higuchi, S., Ishikawa, F., and Tsunetsugu, Y., "Interdisciplinary Symposium on 'Human Beings and Environments': Approaches from Biological Anthropology, Social Anthropology and Developmental Psychology". Sunday, 25th August, 2002
  • "Biorhythm experiment management plan", NASA, Ames Research Center. Moffett Field, 1983.
  • "Biological Rhythms and Human Adaptation to the Environment". US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (AMRMC), US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.
  • Ebert, D., K.P. Ebmeier, T. Rechlin, and W.P. Kaschka, "Biological Rhythms and Behavior", Advances in Biological Psychiatry. ISSN 0378-7354
  • Horne, J.A. & Östberg, O. (1976). A Self-Assessment Questionnaire to determine Morningness-Eveningness in Human Circadian Rhythms. International Journal of Chronobiology, 4, 97-110.

External articles

  • Journal of Circadian Rhythms article
  • Halberg Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Minnesota, founded by Franz Halberg, the "Father of Chronobiology"
  • The University of Virginia offers an online tutorial on chronobiology.
  • See the Science Museum of Virginia publication Can plants tell time?
  • The University of Manchester has an informative Biological Clock Web Site
  • Cycles Research Institute includes an article on Chizhevsky.
  • VII International Crimean Conference "Cosmos and Biosphere", October 1-6, 2007, Sudak, Ukraine
  • S Ertel's analysis of Chizhevsky's work
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Chronobiology". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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