Elizabeth H. Blackburn was born on 26 November 1948 in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. Professor Elizabeth H. Blackburn received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for her discovery of how the enzyme, telomerase replenishes the telomere.
As a child, Elizabeth was fascinated by biology and especially, animals. She was captivated by science books written for young people and re-read the biography of Marie Curie over and over again. When she was in her late teens, she went to Broadland House Girls Grammar School to receive her education. Due to the fact that physics was not offered there, she took physics classes offered in the evenings at the local public high school.
Elizabeth choose biochemistry as her major and graduated with a Biochemistry Honours Degree. She was then offered a position as a master student in The Chair of the Biochemistry Department, Frank Hird’s research laboratory. Afterwards, she proceeded to Cambridge for her Ph.D. student.
Originally planning to do a postdoctoral fellowship with Howard Goodman and Herb Boyer of UCSF, love intervened and she and John Sedat decided to marry. Since John was going to Yale, Elizabeth decided to see if there were opportunities of going into a laboratory in Yale for her postdoctoral training. Joe Gall’s lab at Yale University accepted Elizabeth and she continued her research there.
After finishing her postdoctoral training at Yale University, Elizabeth moved to San Francisco, California with John Gall. She applied for the position of Assistant Professor at various universities including UC Berkeley and once UC Berkeley accepted her, she transferred her funding from University of California San Francisco (UCSF) to her own laboratory at UC Berkeley.
Elizabeth’s research provides insight on how telomeres cap the end of the chromosome and aid in the stability of gene cells. Elizabeth’s early work showed a relationship between the size of telomeres and a chromosome’s ability to reproduce. In 1984, she discovered the enzyme telomerase and after isolating it, found that telomerase synthesizes new telomeres in DNA and also determines the length of the telomeres. More of her research done afterwards shows that telomeres shrink and cannot reproduce properly when telomerase is defective. Her work has important implications for researchers in cancer, fungal infections and the aging process.