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.”
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.