Geriatric Disorders Author: Ricki Lewis

Chromosome tips, called telomeres, have long fascinated geneticists because they protect chromosomes from degradation. And recent research has revealed another vital role for telomeres: As they shrink with each cell division, they keep a biochemical tally of the number of divisions remaining in a cell's lifetime. If this precise control goes awry, the biochemical consequences could be dire, such as uncontrolled growth or premature aging.

The role of telomeres in controlling cell division suggests applications in treating cancer and geriatric diseases. "It is a fascinating story, and we are right in the middle of its evolution," says Jerry Shay, a professor of cell biology and neurosciences at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. Shay's use of the word "middle" is telling-telomere biologists caution that applications of the new knowledge rest on learning more. "The research is in an...

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