Telomerase and the ageing process
In 2009, University of California cell biologist Elizabeth Blackburn and two other scientists who worked with her won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their pioneering work in discovering telomerase. Whether or not telomerase research will lead to ways of combating ageing, it has provided explanations for why exercise, meditation and a healthy diet impact so powerfully on the ageing process.
A chromosome contains many genes arranged along its double helix of DNA. At each end of the strand are sections of DNA called telomeres which, like the plastic sleeves that keep the ends of shoelaces from fraying, stop the chromosome’s ends unraveling. This prevents the chromosomes sticking to one other or losing gene sequences. In this way telomeres protect genetic information by keeping chromosomes from entangling when cells divide, so genes don’t jumble their genetic information,
which leads to disease or death. But telomeres get a little shorter every time a cell divides, and when they get too short, cell division has to stop (programmed cell death or apoptosis). During normal ageing, the gradual loss of telomeric DNA in dividing somatic cells can contribute to a slowing and cessation of cell replication and tissue repair and the transformation of normal cells into neoplastic ones.