Telomerase Structure

Researchers at John Hopkins University recently elucidated the structure of telomerase by comparing the telomerase RNA genes of 32 different vertebrate species (J.L. Chen et al., "Secondary structure of vertebrate telomerase RNA," Cell, 100:503-14, March 3, 2000). Responsible for the elongation of telomeres--the caps on chromosomes that prevent chromosome degradation--telomerase is a potential cancer drug target since, when overly active, it can contribute to the growth of cancerous cells. Senior author Carol Greider, a professor of molecular biology, says that by using a so-called "phylogenetic" approach, Hopkins investigators let nature do their mutagenesis and structure hunting for them. Rather than deciphering functional RNA regions by making a bunch of mutations within the gene, they collected sequences from lots of related organisms, determined the sequence discrepancies, and inferred where base pairings have been conserved. By finding the functional core of vertebrate telomerase RNAs, investigators reaped not only...

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