In the 1980s, scientists knew that DNA polymerase could not copy the ends of chromosomes, yet chromosome ends were still largely maintained in an organism. Additionally, they observed that the ends of chromosomes consists of highly repetitive sequences they called telomeres. Blackburn and her colleagues hypothesized that the cell must have a mechanism to add telomeres to prevent chromosome shortening during replication. In this video, we describe the experiment that demonstrated the existence of a distinct enzyme, later named telomerase, that adds telomeres to the ends of chromosomes. This enzyme was later found to be involved in aging, cancer, and other diseases!
This video was produced in collaboration with iBiology and is a complement to Elizabeth Blackburn’s iBiology Discovery talk, where Blackburn recalls the events that led to the discovery of telomerase.