Telomeres are stretches of DNA located at end of chromosomes. Similar to the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces which keep the lace from fraying, telomeres keep chromosome ends from fraying, protecting our genetic data and making it possible for cells to divide.
Each time a cell divides, the telomeres become shorter until they become too short to divide further. The cell then becomes “senescent,” or in other words, it dies.
Telomeres are crucial to cellular aging, explaining that cells do not divide infinitely but rather break down via a pre-programmed death, also known as apoptosis.
Why Telomeres Are Key To The Process of Aging
Telomere length ultimately affects the onset of aging and related diseases.
In 1982, Elizabeth H. Blackburn at the University of California in San Francisco discovered the molecular structure of telomeres and co-discovered the enzyme telomerase, which is considered essential to the puzzle of cellular division and DNA replication. These discoveries about the genetic structures related to the Hayflick Limit offer scientific insights into the mysteries of aging and lifespan.
In 2009, along with Jack Szostak and Carol Greider, Blackburn received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
According to recent studies, in addition to age, telomere length can also be affected by lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise.
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