Carol Greider was a 25-year-old graduate student studying fragments of a pond creature when she established herself as one of the world’s pioneering researchers.

Her interest was basic: How do chromosomes – the strands of DNA that contain genes – maintain themselves? Her focus was keen: She concentrated on the tiny caps on chromosome ends, important tip-structures known as telomeres.

Taking the lead of mentors who predicted that some sort of unknown enzyme perhaps played a role in telomere maintenance, Greider set out into uncharted territory and uncovered a mechanism that’s fundamental to one-celled pond dwellers; indeed, to all living organisms, including humans.

Greider’s improbable discovery of telomerase – a remarkable enzyme that restores telomeres and protects them from damage – catalyzed an explosion of scientific studies which, to this day, probe connections between telomerase and telomeres to human cancer and diseases of aging.

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