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Nobel Prize Winning Chemistry

October 6, 2009

Australian born Dr Elizabeth Blackburn was part of a Nobel Prize winning team this week for her work in Physiology and Medicine.  Her work, which was acknowledged in 1998 with the Australian  Prime Ministers Prize for Science may well change the way we (cosmetic chemists) develop anti-ageing products.  Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak  have been studying the  enzyme  Telomerase since the early 1980’s, building up a picture of its structure and how it interacts with DNA and what that means for our cellular health.

They found that this enzyme plays a vital part in DNA replication, ensuring that everything runs smoothly in the cell. Blackburn described Telomerase  in a 1997 New York Times interview as the cap bits on the end of your shoelaces – without them the laces start to fray.  Sounds pretty important to me!

The bit that I am most fascinated by is the link between stress and telomerase. It is tempting to use the old phrase “The mind Vs the Body” here but when you think about it the mind IS the body, it is made up from cells just like every other part of us. So, the fact that this Nobel Prize winning team have found a link between chronic stress and the size of the telomerase in cells is interesting indeed.   You can read more about this by following this link to the Nobel Prize interview.

What I am less interested in is the fact that this team is made up of two women. It seems quite odd that as we approach 2010 we still find the need to point out how few women have won Nobel Prizes – overall it is a small percentage and in the field of science you are talking nanoscule but is a persons sex really relevant?   Talking of Women and Science, Elizabeth did  win the L’Oreal -UNESCO Award for Women in Science in 2008 (look out for those L’Oreal patents soon). While these awards are great and do raise the status of the winners it still makes me feel a little sad that we are so small in number that we need special treatment.

The next odd thing is this.  I find it strange  that we  then feel the need to ask these women  about how they juggle being a woman and being a scientist.  I think that anyone, man or woman would feel the pressure of mixing a career as a highly successful anything with parenthood after all I haven’t met many kids who give a dam about what their parents do as long as they get their dinner on the table, a book at bedtime and lashings of cuddles.  I am sure that Elizabeth’s kids are all grown up by now!

Anyway, it’s great that Australia gave birth to such a talented scientist and one that could perhaps give us another cancer treatment along with some high-tec anti-ageing strategies.  Nice One!

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