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From fruitfly biorhythms to a weekend in Stockholm

6 November @ 7:30 pm 9:00 pm

A lecture to be given by Professor Charalambos P Kyriacou, FMedSci. Professor of Behavioural Genetics, University of Leicester

The lecture will outline how working in a very esoteric and rather obscure field that nobody really cares about led to unanticipated developments! But in more detail:

Endogenous ‘circadian’ (Latin circa-about, diem-day) 24 hour rhythms percolate through every aspect of behaviour, metabolism and physiology in all organisms that inhabit the surface of the planet, including bacteria. Whether you are an early morning lark, or a late-night owl, your genes encode your ‘chronotype’. The genetic analysis of biological rhythms began when clock mutations were identified in the fruitfly, Drosophila, that disrupted the fly’s 24 hour sleep-wake cycles. In 1978, as a young researcher at Brandeis University near Boston, Massachusetts, working with the geneticist, Jeff Hall, I started a side project using these mutants for studying how flies mate. This soon became my major project and I have worked on biological rhythms ever since. In 1981 before I left Boston for Edinburgh, I discussed the possibility of identifying clock genes at the molecular level with a friend of mine who also worked at Brandeis, Michael Rosbash, a well-known, then young, molecular biologist. He seemed interested, and together by the mid-1980s a group of us led by Hall and Rosbash, succeeded in isolated DNA sequences that encoded a 24 hour clock gene called ‘period’. Hall and Rosbash went on to identify other clock genes in flies until they had built a molecular model of how the clock works. Remarkably, this molecular timing mechanism is conserved in humans and over the decades it has become clear that normal circadian function is required for general health and well-being because disturbances of the 24 hour timer (as in shift workers) can lead to cardiovascular, metabolic, and mental health problems, cancer, and of course, poor sleep. In recognition of the general importance of their work, Hall and Rosbash, together with Michael Young at Rockefeller University in New York, were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for their genetic dissection of the circadian clock. The take home message of this story is that no matter how esoteric scientific research may seem at the time (ie. who in their right mind would care about how clock genes dictate the sex life of fruitflies?), this ‘useless’ piece of work led to bigger and better things.

Charalambos (Bambos) Kyriacou was born in Camden, London, in 1953 and was educated in North London, helping out during the week in his father’s restaurant in Finchley and during the summers working in the local graveyard. Bambos went to Birmingham University at 17 and read psychology where one of the lecturers sparked an interest towards behavioural genetics.

Graduating in 1973 he started a PhD on Drosophila genetics and behaviour in the Departments of Psychology and Genetics in Sheffield. In 1976 he spent a year as a demonstrator in psychology at the University of Edinburgh before moving to Brandeis University, Boston, MA USA, in early 1978 to work with Jeff Hall and, later, with Michael Rosbash. Whilst there Dr Kyriacou initiated a project on fly circadian rhythms and has been working in this field of chronobiology ever since.

In 1981 Dr Kyriacou moved back to the same department in Edinburgh as an independent SRC research fellow and then took a Lectureship in Genetics at Leicester in 1984. He was promoted in 1996 and elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2000, serving 18 months as interim Head of Department in 2000 and 2001. As HoD, and with his colleague Gabby Dover, Professor Kyriacou wrote and organised his department’s RAE 2001 submission, in which Genetics was awarded a 5*, the only Genetics department in the UK and the only department in Leicester University to achieve the highest ranking


This event is open to both members and non-members to attend in person. The event will also be streamed using Zoom.

Members: Members will receive an email about a week before the event providing them with the information required to listen to the lecture using Zoom.

Non-members: Non-members may attend either on Zoom or in-person on payment of £5 (student non-members £3) by booking through EventBrite:



New Walk Museum, 53 New Walk
Leicester, LE1 7EA
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