Andreatta, G., & Tessmar-Raible, K. (2020). The still dark side of the moon: molecular mechanisms of lunar-controlled rhythms and clocks. J Mol Biol, in press.
Abstract: Starting with the beginning of the last century, a multitude of scientific studies has documented that the lunar cycle times behaviors and physiology in many organisms. It is plausible that even the first life forms adapted to the different rhythms controlled by the moon. Consistently, many marine species exhibit lunar rhythms, and also the number of documented “lunar-rhythmic” terrestrial species is increasing. Organisms follow diverse lunar geophysical/astronomical rhythms, which differ significantly in terms of period length: from hours (circalunidian and circatidal rhythms) to days (circasemilunar and circalunar cycles). Evidence for internal circatital and circalunar oscillators exists for a range of species based on past behavioral studies, but those species with well-documented behaviorally free-running lunar rhythms are not typically used for molecular studies. Thus, the underlying molecular mechanisms are largely obscure: the dark side of the moon. Here we review findings which start to connect molecular pathways with moon-controlled physiology and behaviors. The present data indicate connections between metabolic/endocrine pathways and moon-controlled rhythms, as well as interactions between circadian and circatidal/circalunar rhythms. Moreover, recent high-throughput analyses provide useful leads towards pathways, as well as molecular markers. However, for each interpretation it is important to carefully consider the – partly substantially differing – conditions used in each experimental paradigm. In the future, it will be important to use lab experiments to delineate the specific mechanisms of the different solar- and lunar-controlled rhythms, but to also start integrating them together, as life has evolved equally long under rhythms of both sun and moon.