Saturday, December 15, 2007

Can't Fight the Moonlight

Studies indicate the sunlight that is reflected off the moon’s surface may indeed be romantic! Following a full moon, mass spawning of corals in the barrier reef occurs due to the cryptochromes, or photoreceptors of plants that detect the blue light. This is what tells the coral that it is the right hour of the right few nights to spawn during the spring.

Cryptochromes are believed to be the predecessors of eyes and exist not only in coral, but also insects, humans, and other mammals. Linked with a system which repairs damage done by ultraviolet radiation, cryptochromes may have evolved in eyeless beings that were incompatible with sunlight.

Brain monitoring of night-migrating birds demonstrate increased usage of cryptochrome-expressing neurons as well as forebrain region, suggesting that cryptochrome receptors may also have a role in birds’ directions, providing night-migratory birds with a magnetic compass of sorts, dependant on blue light.

If cryptochromes are vital to a coral’s spawning and in the migration of birds, what are the effects of moonlight on our cryptochromes? Does a full moon really make us wild? If they are still in our DNA, do we still have a use for them?

There is no doubt that cryptochromes do have a function in the circadian rhythms of organisms, which regulate metabolism, physiology, and behavior. However, up to this point, studies on how moonlight or a full moon may affect human behavior are inconclusive.

From what I have heard from working professionals who deal with people- a nurse and a policeman, I suspect that it’s not just a superstition that a full moon has an effect on people. They didn’t say that people were more violent or aggressive (a theory is that more people will be assaulted during a full moon due to increased aggression), however they both agree that people do seem to get a little crazier and their late shifts get a little busier than normal. I think that the area of cryptochromes needs to be explored further; it’s really fascinating that the photoreceptors may have so many different functions.