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Under the microscope: Telomeres

What are telomeres?

Under the microscope: Shutterstock

Telomeres are the section of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome, that protects it from deterioration or from fusion with 
other chromosomes.

Why are they in the news?

The molecular biologist Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, who shared a Nobel Prize for her research on telomeres, has published a new book on her work.

That doesn’t sound like light bedtime reading. 

Actually, it is her first book that is aimed at a general audience. She decided to do so after frustration that the implications of her research were not reaching the wider public and remained within academic circles.

So what happens with telomeres?

Over time they wear down and then they cannot protect chromosomes properly. The result of this is the cells being unable to divide and essentially dying.

Is it possible to stop this happening? 

The book advises avoiding chronic stress, eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising moderately.

That advice doesn’t sound new. 

True. But the aim is to explain to the public how lifestyle decisions have an impact at a cellular level, rather than offer healthy living tips.

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