The Scientific Activist

Today, the Nobel Committee announced the winners of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, equally shared between Elizabeth Blackburn of UCSF, Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins, and Jack Szostak of Harvard Medical School–all three American. This year’s prize was awarded for the discovery of telomeres, the repeated sequences of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect the integrity of the chromosomal DNA, and for the discovery of telomerase, the enzyme that builds the telomeres.

This prize recognizes seminal work in molecular genetics and biology that unlocked some of the basic secrets of how our cells function. These studies were also relevant to cancer biology. Most cells in the adult exhibit only limited telomerase activity, meaning that as cells divide and replicate their DNA, the chromosomes’ telomeres become shorter. This limits the number of times a cell can divide and contributes to aging. Cancer cells, however, can exhibit overactive telomerase, allowing them to divide uncontrollably.

Another interesting dimension of this prize is that Elizabeth Blackburn in particular has been highly engaged in the national dialogue on science policy in recent years. In 2004, Blackburn was instrumental in revealing how politically-charged and dysfunctional George W. Bush’s President’s Council on Bioethics was. From 2001 to 2004 she served as one of only three full-time biomedical researchers on the 17-to-18-member council. In 2004, she was fired from the council, along with another member who disagreed with the administration’s position on some of the relevant issues.

Blackburn spoke out about the Council of Bioethics, demonstrating that despite its written mission to be a body that monitors research developments and recommends appropriate guidelines, it was really just a tool for parroting the Bush Administration’s positions on certain hot-button issues–particularly embryonic stem cell research. Thus, Blackburn played a central and important role in revealing the extent of the political interference in science that pervaded the Bush Administration.

Comments

  1. #1 Palade
    October 5, 2009

    Extraterrestrial genes – Future Nobel Prize for Medicine ?
    - The DNA Mystery (The Daily Galaxy-September 22, 2009): Scientists Stumped By “Telepathic” Abilities – DNA has been found to have a bizarre ability to put itself together, even at a distance, when according to known science it shouldn’t be able to. Explanation: None, at least not yet… Scientists find Extraterrestrial genes in Human DNA – A group of researchers working at the Human Genome Project indicate that they made an astonishing scientific discovery: They believe so-called 97% non-coding sequences in human DNA is no less than genetic code of
    extraterrestrial life forms. The non-coding sequences are common to all living organisms on Earth, from moulds to
    fish to humans. In human DNA, they constitute larger part of the total genome, says Prof. Sam Chang, the group leader. Non-coding sequences, originally known as “junk DNA”, were discovered years ago, and their function remained a mystery:
    http://cristiannegureanu.blogspot.com/2009/10/dna-mystery-scientists-stumped-by.html

  2. #2 Cath the Canberra Cook
    October 5, 2009

    Oi, they’re Australians! They may be working in America, but they’re Aussie women!

  3. #3 Cath the Canberra Cook
    October 5, 2009

    Oops, an Aussie woman – not Greier, Blackburn. Elizabeth Blackburn is from Tasmania.

  4. #4 Naj
    October 5, 2009

    It is today’s headline in Melbourne newspaper the Age, that Blackburn is an Aussie based in SF.

    http://www.theage.com.au/national/whats-a-nice-girl-like-you-doing-with-a-nobel-prize-20091005-gjiu.html?autostart=1

  5. #5 Paul Browne
    October 6, 2009

    I’d almost forgotton about Dr. Blackburn’s stand against Bush era distortion of science, thanks for the reminder.

    What I liked about this award was how the Nobel assembly stressed how this work shows the importance of curiosity-driven basic research.

    http://speakingofresearch.com/2009/10/06/nobel-prize-time-again-and-the-laskers-too/

  6. #6 Cindi
    October 6, 2009

    Hey, wait a minute! Extraterrestrial DNA in the human genome? How do they know it’s extraterrestrial?

  7. #7 Georgia - Sydney, Australia
    October 9, 2009

    Good on her(and her collaborators)! Although Elizabeth Blackburn is Australian, she’s a naturalised US citizen now, and has lived there for most of her life.

  8. #8 Daniel
    October 10, 2009

    Those who are young enough to benefit from the understanding of replicative senescence that study of telomeres/telomerase is leading to, will pay homage to Blackburn, Greider, and Szostak at their tercentennial birthdays. The rest of us are standing at the rail, hoping they’re into the far turn yelling, “Go Telo. Go Telo. Go Telo….”

  9. #9 Taylor
    August 9, 2010

    I’m with Cindi,how is the DNA identified as extraterrestrial?

    I am not convinced of the cancer DNA,however,we do have nasty stuff in the environment that alters DNA which in turn promotes cancer.

    I am also interested in what anti cancer drugs are being resisted since cancer treatment/s are Not very revolutionary.

    If anyone can chime in this would be appreciated..extraterrestrial or human.

    Cheers!

  10. #10 Dov Henis
    April 4, 2011

    Again, Correct Some Figments Of Science Imagination
    http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2SF3CJJM5OU6T27OC4MFQSDYEU/blog/articles/273273?listPage=index&bb=0

    1. Dark energy and matter YOK. Per E=Total[m(1 + D)] all the energy and matter of the universe are accounted for.
    Adopt space-massdistance concept, mass-to-enrgy reconversion.

    2. Higgs Particle YOK. Mass forms below some value of the above D.

    3. Galactic clusters formed by conglomeration?
    Galactic clusters formed by Big-Bang’s dispersion, evidenced by their Newtonian behaviour including expansion acceleration.

    4. The universe expansion is fueled by the mass-to-enrgy reconversion. Eventually, as expansion will slow down, will run out of massfuel, gravity will overcome expansion and initiate empansion back to singularity. The universe is a cyclic array of energy-mass dualism, between all-energy and all-mass poles, under omnipresent gravity.

    5. Natural Selection is a trait of organisms, life?
    No. Natural selection is ubiquitous for ALL mass formats, all spin arrays. It derives from the expansion of the universe. All mass formats, regardless of size and type, from black holes to smallest particles, strive to increase their constrained energy in attempt to postpone their own reconversion to energy, to the energy that fuels cosmic expansion.

    6. Life is an enigma?
    Life is just another type of mass array, a self-replicating mass array. Earth life is a replicating RNAs mass. It has always been and still is an RNA world. ALL Earth’s organisms are evolved RNAs, evolved for maintaining-enhancing Earth’s biosphere, for prolonging RNAs survival.

    7. Cells are Earth-life’s primal organisms?
    NO. Earth’s life day one was the day on which RNA began replicating. RNAs, genes, are ORGANISMS. And so are their evolved templates, (RNA and DNA) genomes, ORGANISMS, as evidenced by life’s chirality and by life’s sleep.

    8. Circadian Schmircadian sleep origin?
    Sleep is inherent for life via the RNAs, the primal Earth ORGANISMS originated and originally active only under direct sunlight, in their pre-metabolism genesis era.

    9. Epigenetics are heritable gene functions changes not involving changes in DNA sequence?
    The “heritable or enduring changes” are epiDNAtics, not epigenetics. Alternative splicing is not epigenetics, even if/when not involving alteration of the DNA sequence. Earth life is an RNA world.

    10.Genetics drive biology and culture modifications?
    NO. It is culture that modifies genetics, not genetics that modifies culture. Culture modifies genetics simply via the evolutionary natural selection process of the RNA ORGANISMS. Likewise many natural genetic changes are due to aging and/or circumstantial effects on the genes and/or genomes ORGANISMS, similar to aging and/or evolutionary processes in monocell communities or in multicelled organisms.

    SCIENCE SHOULD UNFREEZE. SCIENCE SHOULD ADJUST ITS VISION, COMPREHENSION AND CONCEPTS.

    Dov Henis
    (Comments From 22nd Century)
    http://www.the-scientist.com/community/user/profile/1655.page
    Seed of Human-Chimp Genomes Diversity
    http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2SF3CJJM5OU6T27OC4MFQSDYEU/blog/articles/53079
    03.2010 Updated Life Manifest
    http://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/54.page#5065
    Evolution, Natural Selection, Derive From Cosmic Expansion
    http://darwiniana.com/2010/09/05/the-question-reductionists-fear/
    Rethink Evolution/Natural Selection
    http://darwiniana.com/2011/03/29/comment-from-dov-henis/comment-page-1/

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