Early life and Journey into ScienceEditElizabeth Blackburn was born in Hobart, Tasmania,Australia in 1948. She comes from a well educated family of physicians and geologists. Her parents were both family physicians as were most of her uncles and aunties. She was the second child of seven siblings .She had a fascination for animals and nature which led her into science. Growing up, she found answering questions through science very interesting . Reading Marie Curie's biography steered her decision to choose science as a career. She completed her Bachelors with honours in Biochemistry from the University of Melbourne (1970) and she was offered to do a masters in the same university in the lab of Frank Hird who was the chair of the Biochemistry department at that time. His lab focussed on the biochemistry of amino acid metabolism and she particularly focussed on glutamine metabolism in rat liver. During her masters, she met Fred Sanger through Frank Hird who had worked with him. She was accepted for phd at the University of Cambridge and started her work in Fred Sanger's lab. She used Fred Sanger's method of DNA sequencing to sequence bacteriophage phiX 174 , a small single stranded DNA bacteriophage (1972-75). She met Herb Boyer from USCF at a conference in Belgium and was offered a post doctoral position at USCF in the labs of Herb Boyer and Howard Goodman.
At this time, she got married to John Sedat. As he was moving to Yale, she decided to look for a post doctoral position at Yale and ended up at Joe Gall's lab. Using the Anna Fuller's Fellowship, she started working on sequencing ends of sequences of short linear minichromosomes that carried ribosomal genes. (1975-77)
In 1977, her husband chose to accept his position as Assistant Professor at USCF. So they moved to San Francisco where she was applying for positions. She was offered a research position at the Department of Genetics. With her NIH grant in place, she started her rearch on telomeres in Tetrahymena which was a continuation of her research at Yale. She was soon offered a position as Assistant Professor at UC Berkley where she set up her own lab with her grant in place. She focussed on telomeres and how they were strangely packed in a structure that did not look like the nucleosome.
In 1986 she became a Full professor at UC Berkley but she moved to USCF with her lab as a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology as she had her son. It was here that she discovered telomerases and their function for which she was awarded the Nobel price in Physiology or Medicine along with Carol.W.Greider and Jack W.Szostak in the year 1990. Here is the wiki link that mentions all of her awards and honours. She discovered that the ends of the DNA are protected by telomeres and that their maintenance was important during cell division. Telomerases maintain the length of the telomeres which was found to be important in aging but they can also cause cancer if they over-do it. She shared her nobel price with her graduate student Carol who helped her discover the enzyme. She also lined bone marrow failure in young adults to a defective telomerase RNA gene. Patients made half the normal amount of telomerase. So patients have short telomeres and die at a young age.