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An enzyme involved in cancer and aging gets a close-up

Understanding what telomerase looks like could guide therapies for cancer, other illnesses

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10:00am, May 4, 2018
telomerase

HANDY ADD  Telomerase (bottom structure), a complex of proteins and RNA, adds DNA to telomeres (green caps), the ends of chromosomes (blue X’s). The telomeres shorten when cells divide.

Like a genetic handyman, an elusive enzyme deep inside certain cells repairs the tips of chromosomes, which fray as cells divide. It’s prized by rapidly dividing cells – like stem cells and tumor cells – and by scientists on the hunt for cancer and other disease therapies.

Now researchers have the best picture yet of this enzyme, called telomerase. Using cryo-electron microscopy, structural biologist Kelly Nguyen and her colleagues describe the structure of telomerase at a resolution of 0.7 to 0.8 nanometers, three times better than the last attempt.

This close-up reveals how the enzyme’s proteins and RNA are put together, potentially offering insight into ways to fight cancer and understand genetic diseases caused by faulty versions of the enzyme, the researchers report online April 25 in Nature.

The discovery of telomerase in 1984 earned a team of biologists the

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