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Elizabeth Blackburn

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Elizabeth Blackburn
Image by Gerbil/CC A-SA License

San Francisco is very proud of Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn, but I think Australia and Britain can take some joy as well.

Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, was named the Nobel Prize winner in physiology or medicine for discovering how chromosomes are protected.

Blackburn will share one-third of the $1.4 million prize with Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University and Jack Szostak of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital.

The trio found that chromosome-capping telomeres — which Blackburn has compared to the plastic ends of shoe laces — and the enzyme telomerase protect chromosomes as cells divide.

Blackburn and Szostak discovered that a unique DNA sequence in the telomeres protects the chromosomes from degradation while Blackburn and Greider identified telomerase, the enzyme that makes telomere DNA.

Elizabeth Blackburn was born in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, where her parents, Harold and Marcia Blackburn, were physicians. She attended Broadland House School in Launceston, Tasmania. Her family then moved to Melbourne, where she attended University High School and the University of Melbourne, where she earned her B.Sc. degree in 1970, and her M.Sc. degree in 1972. Elizabeth moved to Britain to attend Darwin College, Cambridge, where she earned her Ph.D. (1975) from the University of Cambridge. Her postdoctoral study in molecular and cellular biology was at Yale University in 1975–77. A wonderful foundation for her success today.

Her discoveries have already had an impact on cancer research and research into aging.

Well done!

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