Biography of Elizabeth Helen Blackburn

Area of expertise: Molecular Biology

Major contributions: Elizabeth Helen Blackburn co-discovered telomerase, which is the enzyme that replenishes the telomere. She conducted the study with a fellow woman in science, Carol W. Greider. Both women conducted research on the telomere, which is a structure that protects the chromosome. She also worked in medical ethics.

Notable recognitions:

  • 1992 – Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS)
  • 2006 – Meyenburg Prize
  • 2009 – Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (Shared with Carol Greider and Jack Szostak)
  • 2012 – AIC Gold Medal (First woman to receive the prize)
  • 2015 – Royal Medal from the Royal Society

Elizabeth Helen Blackburn is a pioneering molecular biologist and Nobel laureate who has made significant contributions to our understanding of the role of telomeres in the aging process. Born in 1948 in Hobart, Tasmania, Blackburn received her bachelor’s degree in science from the University of Melbourne and later earned her PhD in molecular biology from the University of Cambridge.

Throughout her career, Blackburn has focused on studying telomeres, which are structures that protect the ends of chromosomes. In the 1980s, she worked as a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, where she and her graduate student, Carol Greider, discovered that telomeres shorten with each cell division and that this process is linked to the aging process. They also discovered an enzyme called telomerase, which is responsible for maintaining telomere length and preventing chromosomal damage.

In 2009, Blackburn and Greider were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on telomeres and telomerase. They were the first female duo to receive the award and Blackburn was the first Australian woman to receive the Nobel Prize in any field.

In addition to her research, Blackburn has also been an influential mentor and advocate for diversity and inclusion in the scientific community. She has served as a role model for aspiring scientists and has worked to promote the participation of women and underrepresented groups in science.

Blackburn’s contributions to the field of molecular biology have had a profound impact on our understanding of the role of telomeres in the aging process and the potential for telomerase to be used as a therapeutic target for age-related diseases. Her dedication to scientific research and her advocacy for diversity and inclusion in the scientific community have inspired countless others to pursue careers in science and work to advance our understanding of the world.