What is the definition of a telomere?
The Internet is littered with theory about what exactly is a telomere, and how and why does it play into the aging process? This site was set up to set the record straight on this often misunderstood topic.
At the end of every chromosome are pieces of DNA that serve as a protective seal over your real DNA each time cell division takes place.
Because cells divide, the last remaining piece of chromosome cannot be duplicated, and part of it gets cut off. As cells divide, the telomeres become shorter each time, and eventually, they no longer exist. When this happens, the “real DNA” cannot be replicated and the cell begins to age instead of replicating itself.
Facts About Telomere Shortening
Studies show that older citizens have shorter telomeres. As they reach a point in life where the cells can no longer replicate, the inevitable signs of aging start to show. This is often why telomere length is discussed as a secret to longevity.
Here’s another chart showing the shortening process.
Why Do We Have Them?
Think of these magical strains as the ends of shoelaces. You know that plastic piece that keeps the string in order and makes sure it doesn’t unravel? That’s basically what the telomere can do – ensure your skin doesn’t start to unravel. Without them, the part of the genes that are critical for life would become shorter every time a cell divides. Of course, for getting new skin to grow, they are essential. The same can be said for blood, bone, and even other cells.
The function of telomeres is often undermined or not entirely understood. Without a telomere in place of every chromosome strand, essential DNA would be lost every time a cell has to divide to sustain life. The telomeres instead get shorter so that the chromosome doesn’t need to lose valuable DNA.
There is a catch however; telomere shortening is irreversible since telomeres do not replicate the way cells do. This is why aging occurs which has led many scientists to believe that aging can be effectively delayed if telomeres can be made longer somehow and also made to sustain themselves.
People who have shorter telomeres generally have been believed to die younger (of course exceptions exist) and have also been known to be more susceptible to cancer and other diseases which have no cure beyond a certain point.
The stronger and longer the telomere is the more immunity the body will have and the longer it will be able to ward off disease, aging and tissue damage.
Why shortening occurs
When a cell needs to divide, it naturally creates copies of all its inherent genetic material so that nothing is lost during the replication process. When the material is being copied the chromosome opens and the telomere must become shorter in order to incorporate this change.
Two new strands are created and we have successful cell replication. However the telomere will be shorter and this means that aging is already taking place regardless of how slow the process is.
How This Can Be Counteracted
Although telomeres cannot reproduce, the injection of an enzyme called Telomerase can greatly help the process. What it does in simple terms is add bases to the exposed ends of the telomere protecting the chromosome. This means they will last longer and also not get short as quickly. Some research suggests they may not get short at all.
Although many factors contribute to aging, telomeres have been earmarked as the magic ingredient which is doing all the work and hence can be controlled to reduce the effects of aging and also to keep a person younger in every sense of the word. It may even improve life span and give a healthier life to people who suffer from terminal illnesses.
Telomerase is found in sperm cells and eggs and it keeps the DNA intact so that it can be passed on and this is where it can be extracted from although obtaining large doses is a challenge.
This is a topic you’ll see surface quite a bit on the Internet. Today I’ll address just exactly what is the connection between telomeres and cancer.
When a cell starts to become a cancer (cancerous), it has the tendency to divide more frequently. The telomeres, in turn, become very short. When they become too short, they have the tendency to die. Often, these cells make it by generating more of the telomerase enzyme, and this can prevent them from becoming shorter.
Cancers often are linked to shortened telomeres. Most notably, bone, prostate, bladder, neck, head, pancreatic, and bladder forms.
Trying to detect cancer is as simple (although not scientifically agreed upon yet) as measuring telomerase. If professionals can learn to stop telomerase, they may just have the ability to fight cancer by forcing cancer cells age and die.
One noteworthy experiment showed that in a laboratory, researchers blocked telomerase activity in human breast and prostate cancer cells and in turn, made them die. However, there is risk involved, as this can impair fertility, healing of wounds, and also hurt the ability to produce blood cells and immune system cells.