Telomerase promotes proliferation of resting stem cells through a mechanism that does not involve the extension of chromosomal telomeres, researchers report in Nature this week.

"This is a completely new function for telomerase that gives us new insight into stem cells and cancer," Steven Artandi of Stanford University, the study's senior author, told The Scientist.

It had generally been thought that the only function of telomerase was to promote telomere extension, but in recent years evidence has started to accumulate suggesting that the enzyme promotes the development of cancer, and that it might have roles other than synthesizing telomere repeats. In spite of this, some researchers have remained skeptical.

In an attempt to clarify this issue, Kavita Y. Sarin of Stanford University and a team of researchers turned to the mouse hair follicle, an organ that harbors stem cells and cycles between a telogen (resting) phase and an...

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