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She knows how to keep cells young

As the girl loved Elizabeth animals Blackburn. No, not about dogs or horses, as so many his age do. Liz became interested in less glamorous creatures, jellyfish

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She knows how to keep cells young

As the girl loved Elizabeth animals Blackburn. No, not about dogs or horses, as so many his age do. Liz became interested in less glamorous creatures, jellyfish for example, have been washed up on the beach near her parents ' house in Tasmania, for tadpoles, the raised containers in a foul-smelling glass, or for ants, the collected them in the backyard. Even then, in the ' 60s, you had a clear career goal: she wanted to be a biologist. From this goal they themselves did not then, as a teacher once asked, why such a cute girl like she wanted to be a scientist. If anything, This comment reinforced her desire – according to the Motto: I'll show them!

And how you did it! Blackburn remained of the biology and the unglamorous creatures of loyalty, she studied biochemistry in Melbourne and devoted a large part of their researcher living in Cambridge (UK), New Haven, Berkeley, and San Francisco (all US) – an unassuming single-celled organisms called Tetrahymena. Using this Ciliate Blackburn came out in the 70s, a secret on the track, it could be speculated until then, in biology: How to protect the chromosomes, the thread-like DNA molecules at their Ends from fraying, or with any other chromosomes fuse?

Initial huge hype around the discovery of telomeres

Blackburn found that so-called telomeres exert this protective function, it was a breakthrough in cell biology. "If the chromosomes Shoe thread would be, then the telomeres are the protective caps at their Ends", it compares today, more than 40 years after the discovery of these structures. Later, they also discovered the enzyme Telomerase that ensures the telomeres wear out too quickly. For these findings to Blackburn in 2009, price was awarded together with her former doctoral student Carol Greider, and the molecular Jack Szostak biologists, the medical Nobel.

Still, the telomeres and the enzyme Telomerase employ the busy molecular biologist. However, today, 70 researched-Year-old, the chromosome caps are not more in the Ciliates, but since about 1990, when she moved from the University of California, Berkeley, as a Professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), in humans. "We and other researchers found that the telomeres shorten, the older the people are," said Blackburn recently in our Meeting at the ETH Lausanne. On the occasion of the 50. Anniversary of the EPFL, she opened a series of "Campus Lectures".

As of the connection between telomere length and aging public, there was a huge hype around the discovery. Finally, that was the Tenor at the time, one has found a mechanism in which the intervention might be, and so the aging or even stop it can slow down.

protection of the chromosome: telomeres are caps. Photo: Stanford University

The key to this is the enzyme Telomerase seemed to be. This ensures that the telomeres (and therefore cell) after a cell division, a Service. Because with each cell division, the telomeres become shorter and shorter, until the cell can no longer divide at some point. The Telomerase slows down this process. People, genetically determined to be a defective Telomerase enzyme have, develop to the part already as a child a number of different symptoms such as skin problems.

The idea for a makeover was relatively simple: You would have to boost the enzyme Telomerase.

The hopes, however, were in vain. Because quickly showed that Telomerase also has a dark side: "We found that cancer cells possess quite a lot of the enzyme," says Blackburn. As so often in biology, the correct Balance of the system decides between healthy and sick, life and death. Nevertheless, you can find on the Internet instructions on how to make Telomerase, and this can inject. "This is very dangerous," says Blackburn. It also strongly discourages any attempts to increase the Telomerase quantities in the body medication. "The types of cancer that are promoted, are extremely nasty."

the shorter the telomeres, the higher the risk for various diseases

that telomere length is a poor Marker for the age of a Person. "There are 80-Year-old, which have long telomeres, such as 30-Year-old, and Vice versa," says Blackburn. Statistically, although there is a clear correlation between telomere length and age, but this is for individuals are of no importance, because the scattering is so large. The statistical connection: the shorter the telomeres, the higher the risk for Diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Despite these limitations, it is worthwhile to do something for the own telomeres, says Blackburn. "You just take what you have said to your mother: get enough Sleep, exercise, eat healthy, pay attention to social contacts, smoke, and drink no soft drinks." Studies have shown that these behaviors affect the health of the telomeres positively. Probably also a mindfulness training or Meditation help, but the evidence had yet to thin.

but Above all, one should, if possible, long-lasting to avoid stressful situations, says Blackburn. Together with the psychologist Elissa Epel, also from the UCSF, was able to show the Nobel laureate, namely, that of social Stress, the telomeres shrink. Mothers had to take care of over the years, children with a hereditary disease, autism or any other severe disturbance that were stressed chronically social, had, on average, significantly shorter telomeres than ungestresste Time comrades.

It is very well possible to combine a scientific career with a family life, says Blackburn.

in addition to their outstanding academic achievements of Blackburn for many years and is also a great role model for women in research. It is very well possible to combine a scientific career with a family life, she says. Blackburn is married since 1975 with a Professor, the two have a son.

To the advancement of women, it was also when she was asked in 2015 to become President of the prestigious Salk Institute in La Jolla in San Diego – and also agreed. Only two years later, she resigned from the office, quite frustrated. Because, of all things, in their term of office is a suit of three Salk fell-researchers against the Institute – due to gender discrimination notabene. "My hands were tied," says Blackburn, "I couldn't do anything."

Still, Blackburn has a small research group at the UCSF. You can reduce this but continuously, she says at the end. "It is time to give the matter in the hands of the young."

(editing Tamedia)

Created: 15.03.2019, 18:47 PM

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