Elizabeth Blackburn: The science of cells that never get old
Elizabeth Blackburn won a Nobel Prize for her pioneering work on telomeres and telomerase, which may play central roles in how we age. She is president of the Salk Institute and author of the New York Times Best Seller, "The Telomere Effect." Full bio
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with this little fellow.
and it's a single-celled creature.
started with pond scum.
I became a scientist.
stinging jellyfish and sing to them.
about fundamental mysteries
where that curiosity was valued.
pond scum critter Tetrahymena
the fundamental mystery
in our cells called chromosomes.
about the very ends of chromosomes,
protect the ends of chromosomes.
what telomeres consisted of,
that cute little Tetrahymena
consisted of special segments
at the very ends of chromosomes.
Two becomes four. Four becomes eight,
the 200 million billion cells
have to divide thousands of times.
cells are furiously replenishing
standing here before you.
all of its DNA has to be copied,
inside of those chromosomes,
the vital operating instructions
they're not doing right now,
can save the memory of our first kiss
in the way DNA is copied.
and the DNA is copied,
gets worn down and shortened,
at the ends of your shoelace.
or the chromosome, from fraying,
gets too short, it falls off,
sends a signal to the cells.
off the face of the earth.
pond scum critter Tetrahymena?
Tetrahymena cells never got old and died.
as time marched on.
was not in any textbook.
my extraordinary student Carol Greider --
the Nobel Prize for this work --
cells do have something else.
make longer, telomeres,
our pond scum's telomerase,
to their plentiful telomerase
an incredibly hopeful message
receiving from pond scum,
our telomeres do shorten,
that shortening is aging us.
the longer your telomeres,
signs of aging.
from the last 20 years
of getting cardiovascular diseases,
the war of attrition faster.
are staying longer
of all we most dread
I'm going to feel and get old,
renewed by my telomerase,
the signs and symptoms of aging
that Costco-sized bottle
fair trade telomerase, right?
does decrease the risks of some diseases,
of certain and rather nasty cancers.
that Costco-sized bottle of telomerase,
marketing such dubious products,
nudge up your risks of cancers.
it's kind of funny that right now,
well, I'd rather be like pond scum.
and their maintenance.
extending human lifespan
of years of your life
you're healthy, you're productive,
spent feeling old and sick and dying.
over my telomeres' length
little teeny tiny telomeres
a psychologist named Elissa Epel.
of severe, chronic psychological stress
the entrance to a mortuary, and --
question for me.
in people who are chronically stressed?"
with a chronic condition,
be it autism, you name it --
and prolonged psychological stress.
I had been thinking of telomeres
molecular structures that they are,
about studying caregivers,
in a whole new light.
we were studying.
often without help.
were worn down as well?
went into overdrive.
a group of such caregiving mothers,
What's the length of their telomeres
that they have been caregiving
when all the results are in,
at our first scatterplot
that we most feared might exist.
in this caregiving situation,
and the shorter were her telomeres.
the shorter your telomeres,
to fall victim to an early disease span
that people's life events
maintain your telomeres.
just a matter of age counted in years.
indeed had been a life-and-death question.
in that data there was hope.
for their children for many years,
that they were resilient to stress.
to experience their circumstances
insight for all of us:
from different fields
to telomere research,
scientific papers and counting.
rapidly confirmed our initial finding
is bad for telomeres.
over this particular aging process
of California, Los Angeles
for a relative with dementia, long-term,
telomere maintenance capacity
a day for two months.
with a threat stress response,
"I'm about to be fired,"
hormone cortisol creeps up,
high level of the cortisol
as a challenge to be tackled,
and to your brain,
but energizing spike of cortisol.
"bring it on" attitude,
to change what is happening
just got more and more intense,
our telomere maintenance as well?
are intensely social beings.
that our telomeres were social as well?
and the effects are long-term.
in their neighborhoods
matters for telomeres as well.
being in a marriage long-term,
to impact my own telomeres,
just how interconnected we all are.
at the next little critter,
we don't even know today is a question?
that could impact all the world.
how to protect your telomeres,
of brimming good health?
the telomeres of others,
of curiosity to change the world,
that the world invests in curiosity
that will come after us?
ABOUT THE SPEAKERElizabeth Blackburn - Molecular biologist
Elizabeth Blackburn won a Nobel Prize for her pioneering work on telomeres and telomerase, which may play central roles in how we age. She is president of the Salk Institute and author of the New York Times Best Seller, "The Telomere Effect."
Why you should listen
Dr. Blackburn is the president of the Salk Institute and a pioneering molecular biologist. She received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for discovering the molecular nature of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that serve as protective caps essential for preserving genetic information, and for co-discovering telomerase, an enzyme that maintains telomere ends. Both telomeres and telomerase are thought to play central roles in aging and diseases such as cancer, and her work helped launch entire new fields of research in these areas.
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Blackburn has received nearly every major scientific award including the Lasker, Gruber, and Gairdner prizes. She has served as president of the American Association of Cancer Research and the American Society for Cell Biology, and on editorial boards of scientific journals including Cell and Science. She coauthored the best-selling book The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer.
Elizabeth Blackburn | Speaker | TED.com