Chromosome 14: gene involved in producing part of telomerase, Matt Ridley
Interviewee: Matt Ridley.
The TEP1 gene produces a protein important to the function of telomerase, a piece of cellular machinery that adds repeating sequences to the end of chromosomes. Each time a chromosome's DNA is copied, small sequences are chopped off, shortening the life of the cell. Telomerase repairs these ends and has been known to immortalize cells -- giving them extended or eternal life.
(DNAi Location: Genome > Tour > Genome spots > Chromosome 14: Aging and immortality > A chromosome 14 story)
On chromosome 14 is a gene that makes part of an enzyme called telomerase, which is involved in controlling the process of aging in our cells. In a sense, genes are immortal. We inherit genes from our parents, who inherited them from their parents and so back through an unbroken chain for four billion years, since the first life on earth. But in our lifetimes, the genes in our bodies do indeed deteriorate and our bodies age as a result. The chromosomes – the tips of the chromosomes – can often fray, and this is one of the things that telomerase is involved in repairing. So telomerase is necessary for ensuring the immortality of the germ line, through our bodies. But it's also switched on in cancer cells, because cancer cells have immortality; that indeed is part of the problem with cancer.
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Professor Robert Weinberg explains how normal cells can only double a certain limited number of times; and cancer cells have to learn how to proliferate indefinitely, i.e, they have to become immortalized.