a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Key areas of my research and other relevant discoveries


The work of Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

Alexey Olovnikov wrote a paper about his theory that was published in a Russian journal and then, fortunately for him, it subsequently was published in an English journal. It wasn't widely read, since it was speculative. Of course, Alexey did no laboratory work to support his belief, but it turned out that he was absolutely on target. The next event moves us to a second field, and I will join the three fields at the very end. The first field is the story I just recited. The second story I will now disclose. The third story is my work, and I will join the three later. So the second story begins with the work of two women scientists in the US, by name Carol Greider and Elizabeth Blackburn, the mentor to Carol Greider when they were both at Berkeley, I believe, or at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, laboratories that are directed by Jim Watson. Carol's a student of Elizabeth Blackburn's. These scientists were interested in a part of the chromosome called the telomere. Telomeres are found at the ends of chromosomes. They were first described in the 1930s, actually, 1940s, by two world-famous geneticists, who knew nothing about their role in genetics, but they did publish the observations that they saw... these structures, which stained differently from the rest of the chromosome. They wondered about their role, but they did nothing further to exploit the observation, so that became of interest to Carol and Liz. They also discovered that there was an organism that contained, actually, thousands of chromosomes, small stretches of DNA, in the thousands. The organism is a uni-cellular organism called tetrahymena, so it can be seen only under the microscope. It's a ciliated protozoan, I believe, and this, because it has thousands of chromosomes, it also has a proportionate number of telomeres. So it was, as we call, telomere rich, and it was a source of materials for their studies on the nature of telomeres.


And what they discovered was that as the... that the telomeres did indeed consist of a kind of nonsense words that didn't represent genetic information. Along the way, at one point in the work of Carol Greider, who was then at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Carol decided to visit her boyfriend, at that time, at McMaster University in Canada. She went there... her boyfriend was also a scientist. She visited the lab, and as a guest – the members of the department knew that she was a scientist – as a guest she sat in on some of their lab discussions, one of which was the work of a man by the name of Calvin Harley, H A R L E Y. Cal was a kind of scientific grandson of mine. He got his training in my system, while working with Samuel Goldstein, whose name I mentioned earlier, and Cal and I were... later became very good friends. We still are. Calvin presented his work, which involved my major observation of the limited lifespan of cultured normal human cells. Carol described her work, as a guest, with telomeres, and both of them decided that this... a good idea, in pursuit of the cause of the finite lifetime question, would be to pursue experiments, because each had the proper talents – and equipment, etc. – of what happens to telomeres during phase one, two and three of Hayflick's Phenomenon. And so they returned... Carol returned to her labs, they did the work, and got this absolutely fascinating result. The answer is yes, as normal human – and, as we learned later, animal – cells are cultured in glassware, plasticware, in the lab, normal cells, their telomeres get shorter and shorter. No loss of genetic information, because the telomere – the pieces, the chunks of telomeres lost – contain nonsense information, have no value, apparently, to the animal or plant. Well, this was a fundamental insight, because you could interpret that as a counting mechanism. It was learned that cells in phase three, at the later, very end of their ability to replicate, had much shorter telomeres than those at the beginning of the series. A profound insight.

Leonard Hayflick (b. 1928), the recipient of several research prizes and awards, including the 1991 Sandoz Prize for Gerontological Research, is known for his research in cell biology, virus vaccine development, and mycoplasmology. He also has studied the ageing process for more than thirty years. Hayflick is known for discovering that human cells divide for a limited number of times in vitro (refuting the contention by Alexis Carrel that normal body cells are immortal), which is known as the Hayflick limit, as well as developing the first normal human diploid cell strains for studies on human ageing and for research use throughout the world. He also made the first oral polio vaccine produced in a continuously propogated cell strain - work which contributed to significant virus vaccine development.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Aleksey Olovnikov, Carol Greider, Elizabeth Balckburn, Calvin Harley

Duration: 6 minutes, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012