Tetrahymena Part of Recent Lasker Awards

The Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research was given a few days ago (see here). It went to Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak for work on telomerase, the enzyme that synthesizes the ends of linear chromosomes. The whole history of the discovery of telomeres and telomerase is fascinating and a good summary can be found at the Lasker site. The discoveries were made possible in a large part due to the unique and tractable biology of the single celled eukaryotes Tetrahymena thermophila, one of my favorite bugs. Perhpas most importantly, this species has a lot of telomeres and teomerase in each cell since it contains >200 linear chromosomes in the macronucleus and each are present in about 40-50 copies.

I of course have a vested interest in this since I have been in charge of the project to sequence the macronuclear genome of this species. We just published a summary of our findings in PLoS Biology (see the paper here). Research on this organism has led to some other fundamental discoveries in biology, including, for example, the discovery of catalytic RNA, which won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1989.

Winning the Lasker award bodes well for Blackburn, Greider, and Szostak as many previous recipients have gone on to win a Nobel (the Lasker site has a good list of this connection here). However the Lasker listing includes people who won the Lasker AFTER they won a Nobel, which is a bit silly. I am sure they were happy to also get the Lasker Award, but that does not provide useful information for the Lasker as a predictor of the Nobel.

Anyway, a tip of my hat to team telomerase and Tetrahymena thermophila.

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

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