Daniel Nathans Professor and Director of Molecular Biology and Genetics
Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
NEWS RELEASE: "Telomere" Expert Carol Greider Shares 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Carol Greider was a 25-year-old graduate student studying fragments of a pond creature when she established herself as one of the world’s pioneering researchers.
Her interest was basic: How do chromosomes – the strands of DNA that contain genes – maintain themselves? Her focus was keen: She concentrated on the tiny caps on chromosome ends, important tip-structures known as telomeres.
Taking the lead of mentors who predicted that some sort of unknown enzyme perhaps played a role in telomere maintenance, Greider set out into uncharted territory and uncovered a mechanism that’s fundamental to one-celled pond dwellers; indeed, to all living organisms, including humans.
Greider’s improbable discovery of telomerase – a remarkable enzyme that restores telomeres and protects them from damage – catalyzed an explosion of scientific studies which, to this day, probe connections between telomerase and telomeres to human cancer and diseases of aging.
“The quiet beginnings of telomerase research emphasize the importance of basic, curiosity-driven research. At the time that it is conducted, such research has no apparent practical applications. Our understanding of the way the world works is fragmentary and incomplete, which means that progress does not occur in a simple, direct and linear manner. It is important to connect the unconnected, to make leaps and to take risks, and to have fun talking and playing with ideas that might at first seem outlandish.”
-- Carol Greider, with Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak in Nature Medicine, October 2006
As Greider continues to collaborate on bold and visionary work, time will tell which connections between telomerase and health will endure and which new, unforeseen connections will emerge.