Elizabeth Blackburn

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The woman who delved into the causes of our aging

Elizabeth Blackburn is an Australian biochemist, born in 1948.

Blackburn discovered the telomerase, an enzyme that forms the telomeres during DNA replication. Telomeres are sequences of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes from degradation, in the same way that plastic ends prevent shoelaces from fraying. Elizabeth discovered that the unique DNA sequence in telomeres determines ageing and degradation of chromosomes.

Telomeres are shortened by advancing age or by going through periods of intense stress. This shortening is a cause of cell degradation, which leads to wrinkles, crow's feet and all that we associate with the passage of time. Increased activity of the telomerase enzyme maintains the length of telomeres and this in turn is associated to a more youthful appearance. Today her findings help us to understand the process of ageing and also in the search for new therapies for cancer.

Elizabeth Blackburn received the 2008 L'Oreal-UNESCO awards for Women in Science, and in 2009 the Nobel prize in Medicine for her research on the behaviour of telomeres in diverse organisms.

She currently works as a professor of biology and physiology at the University of San Francisco, California. She has written numerous essays and articles relating to women and motherhood, by defending the idea that every woman has the right to choose a career without fear of being discriminated against for being a mother.

«The very valuable thing about science and mathematics is it gives you ways of thinking that are not in any way confined to science.»