The biochemical basis of circadian timekeeping is best characterized in cyanobacteria. The structures of its key molecular players, KaiA, KaiB, and KaiC are known and these proteins can reconstitute a remarkable circadian oscillation in a test tube. KaiC is rhythmically phosphorylated and its phospho-status is a marker of circadian phase that regulates ATPase activity and the oscillating assembly of a nanomachine. Analyses of the nanomachines have revealed how their timing circuit is ratcheted to be unidirectional and how they stay in synch to ensure a robust oscillator. These insights are likely to elucidate circadian timekeeping in higher organisms, including how transcription and translation could appear to be a core circadian timer when the true pacemaker is an embedded biochemical oscillator.
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