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Johns Hopkins UniversityArts and Sciences Magazine

Provost’s Lecture Series
Debuts at Homewood with
Nobel Winner Carol Greider

Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff gathered in Hodson Hall in April to hear from Carol Greider, the Daniel Nathans Professor and director of Molecular Biology and Genetics in the Johns Hopkins Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences in East Baltimore. Her pioneering research on the structure of chromosome ends known as telomeres earned her the 2009 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

Greider’s lecture was the inaugural event in the Provost’s Lecture Series, which will feature a faculty speaker each semester.

“The goal of this lecture series is to bring members of our outstanding faculty to different areas of the university so that we may all learn from their scholarship and their insights,” said Provost Lloyd B. Minor. In so doing, he said, the hope is to “kindle creative processes in all of us and encourage the development of more interdisciplinary programs and interactions.”

In introducing Greider, David Zappulla, assistant professor of biology, noted that she discovered the enzyme telomerase “on a particularly auspicious Christmas Day in 1984,” and said that in the years since, she has proceeded with a “steady stream of discoveries about this ever-fascinating enzyme and its role in maintaining genome integrity.”

In her lecture, Greider explained that telomerase is an enzyme that maintains the length and integrity of telomeres and is critical for the health and survival of all living cells and organisms. Each time a cell divides, its chromosomes become a little shorter. As cells age, their telomeres shorten. Greider noted that her lab’s work has shown that it is the loss of telomere function, not the absence or level of telomerase, that causes some cells to stop dividing or to die.

While a 23-year-old graduate student working with Elizabeth Blackburn, then a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, Greider tracked down the enzyme telomerase, and later determined that each organism’s telomerase contains an RNA component that serves as a template for the creature’s particular telomere DNA repeat sequence. In addition to providing insight into how chromosome ends are maintained, the work of Blackburn, Greider, and Jack Szostak, of Harvard Medical School, laid the foundation for studies that have linked telomerase and telomeres to human cancer and age-related conditions. The three shared the Nobel Prize that was announced last fall.