The telomeres are disposable buffers blocking the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. They are a region of repeated nucleotides containing noncoding DNA. Telomeres are destroyed during cell division, and are remade by the enzyme telomerase.
The function of telomeres is to avoid the loss of important DNA from chromosome ends. Every time the chromosome is copied 100–200 meaningless nucleotides are lost, which causes no damage to the organism's DNA. So, the telomeres are shortened after each replication cycle, and then are restored to their proper length by telomerase. Telomerases carry their own RNA molecule, which is used as a template to elongate the telomeres.
The existence of a compensatory mechanism (a 'fix') for telomere shortening was first predicted by Soviet biologist Alexey Olovnikov in 1973. He also suggested the telomere hypothesis of ageing and the telomere's connections to cancer.
Telomerase was discovered by Carol Greider and Elizabeth Blackburn in 1984 in the ciliate Tetrahymena. Together with Jack Szostak, Greider and Blackburn were awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery.
- Elizabeth Blackburn: AtGoogleTalks, August 20, 2008 Molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn
- Olovnikov AM (September 1973). "A theory of marginotomy. The incomplete copying of template margin in enzymic synthesis of polynucleotides and biological significance of the phenomenon". J. Theor. Biol. 41 (1): 181–90. doi:10.1016/0022-5193(73)90198-7. PMID 4754905.
- Greider CW, Blackburn EH (December 1985). "Identification of a specific telomere terminal transferase activity in Tetrahymena extracts". Cell. 43 (2 Pt 1): 405–13. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(85)90170-9. PMID 3907856.
- "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009". The Nobel Foundation. 2009-10-05. Retrieved 2010-10-23.