First Person | Elizabeth Blackburn

Photo: © UCSF News Office

One day, when Elizabeth Blackburn was about 15, mischief filled her mind. She and a friend mixed ammonia and iodine, then watched as their fellow French-language classmates reacted to the bang. "I was a bad girl," recounts Blackburn, known worldwide for her work on telomeres, the structures that stabilize the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes.

What's on her mind today is deciphering how the enzyme telomerase works, as it is critical to unrestricted cell growth. A cell and molecular biologist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, Blackburn, 53, has earned numerous accolades and scientific academy memberships, including the National Academy of Sciences.

Married to life scientist John Sedat, whom she met while at Cambridge University, Blackburn says her passion for biology emerged during her teenage years--the French class escapade not withstanding--and still consumes her. "I haven't grown up,"...

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