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Scientists produce clearest-ever images of telomerase enzyme that plays key roles in aging and cancer...

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An enzyme called telomerase plays a significant role in aging and most cancers, but until recently many aspects of the enzyme's structure could not be clearly seen.

Now, scientists from UCLA and UC Berkeley have produced images of telomerase in much higher resolution than ever before, giving them major new insights about the enzyme. Their findings, published online today by the journal Science, could ultimately lead to new directions for treating cancer and preventing premature aging.

"Many details we could only guess at before, we can now see unambiguously, and we now have an understanding of where the different components of telomerase interact," said Juli Feigon, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UCLA College and a senior author of the study. "If telomerase were a cat, before we could see its general outline and the location of the limbs, but now we can see the eyes, the whiskers, the tail and the toes."

The research brought together experts in structural biology, biochemistry and biophysics, and a wide range of cutting-edge research techniques.

Telomerase's primary job is to maintain the DNA in telomeres, the structures at the ends of our chromosomes that act like the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces. When telomerase isn't active, each time our cells divide, the telomeres get shorter. When that happens, the telomeres eventually become so short that the cells stop dividing or die.

On the other hand, cells with abnormally active telomerase can constantly rebuild their protective chromosomal caps and become immortal. Making cells immortal might sound like a promising prospect, but it actually is harmful because DNA errors accumulate over time, which damages cells, said Feigon, who also is a researcher at UCLA's Molecular Biology Institute and an associate member of the UCLA-Department of Energy Institute of Genomics and Proteomics.

Telomerase is particularly active in cancer cells, which helps make them immortal and enables cancer to grow and spread. Scientists believe that controlling the length of telomeres in cancer cells could be a way to prevent them from multiplying.

Top Reddit comment:

Telomerase is the best direct approach to an unlimited lifespan, for a simple reason. All human cell cultures of all types have been successfully given unlimited life spans by telomerase transformation, including nerves, skin, muscle, liver, etc, etc. But a problem is that of converting most all cells in living humans to that same kind of unlimited lifespan (NOT immortality, which is the same kind of fallacy of confusing unlimited and practical endlessness (for us) as "infinity" which does not exist).

The problem is that telomerases are also activated in cancer cells, which are most all also unlimited growing cells, which do NOT know when to quit growing, as do normal cells, and then kill by their often esp. vigorous growths.

that's the deepest import of what's going on here. If we have a good description of the exact structure of telomerase, then we can better understand how it works as part of the structure/function relationships so important in understanding pieces of events in our universe. 

Like aging, which telomerase prevents in cell cultures, and cancers, which grow too much and kill.

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