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Home » The Science of Cells That Never Get Old: Elizabeth Blackburn (Transcript)

The Science of Cells That Never Get Old: Elizabeth Blackburn (Transcript)

Elizabeth Blackburn at TED Talks

Professor Elizabeth Blackburn is a Nobel Laureate is a leader in the area of telomere and telomerase research. 

Here is the full text of her TED Talk titled “The Science of Cells That Never Get Old.”

Transcript:

Where does the end begin?

Well, for me, it all began with this little fellow. This adorable organism — well, I think it’s adorable — is called Tetrahymena and it’s a single-celled creature. It’s also been known as pond scum. So that’s right, my career started with pond scum.

Now, it was no surprise I became a scientist. Growing up far away from here, as a little girl I was deadly curious about everything alive. I used to pick up lethally poisonous stinging jellyfish and sing to them.

And so starting my career, I was deadly curious about fundamental mysteries of the most basic building blocks of life, and I was fortunate to live in a society where that curiosity was valued.

Now, for me, this little pond scum critter Tetrahymena was a great way to study the fundamental mystery. I was most curious about: those bundles of DNA in our cells called chromosomes. And it was because I was curious about the very ends of chromosomes, known as telomeres.

Now, when I started my quest, all we knew was that they helped protect the ends of chromosomes. It was important when cells divide.

It was really important, but I wanted to find out what telomeres consisted of, and for that, I needed a lot of them. And it so happens that cute little Tetrahymena has a lot of short linear chromosomes, around 20,000, so lots of telomeres.

And I discovered that telomeres consisted of special segments of noncoding DNA right at the very ends of chromosomes. But here’s a problem.

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