Biological timekeeping: The business of a blind watchmaker

David Lloyd*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewResearchpeer-review


Fundamental understanding of life depends on both structural and functional details atthe molecular level. Continually improving means of measurement of spatial and dynamicproperties of biochemical constituents and cellular components complement studiesof whole organisms. Integration of the interaction of components to provide coherentbehaviour depends on highly elaborate orchestration in space and time. Whereas spatialinformation on a nanometre resolution is available, and fast dynamic analyses providebiochemical reaction rates measured in nanoseconds, functional coordination of thesystem requires integrated time dependence. While we are well aware of the specialcomplexity of living organisms, appreciation of temporal scales and their organisationin time is still fragmentary. This article summarises current developments in research onbiological time on scales from nanoseconds to years, the networks that connect differenttime domains and the oscillations, rhythms and biological clocks that coordinate andsynchronise the complexity of the living state.“It is the pattern maintained by this homeostasis, which is the touchstone ofour personal identity. Our tissues change as we live: the food we eat and the airwe breathe become flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, and the momentaryelements of our flesh and bone pass out of our body every day with our excreta.We are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water. We are not the stuff thatabides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves”60. Wiener, 1954“What are called structures are slow processes of long duration, functions arequick processes of short duration”61. Von Bertalanffy, 1952.

Original languageEnglish
JournalScience Progress
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)113-132
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Circadian
  • Clocks
  • Deterministic chaos
  • Fractal system
  • Infradian
  • Lunar
  • Oscillations
  • Rhythms
  • Tidal
  • Ultradian

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