Carol Greider

Carolyn Greider is an American biochemist and was instrumental in the discovery of telomerase, an enzyme that forms telomeres during DNA duplication.

Together with Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak, she received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Nobel 2009
The 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak. Credit: Wall Street Journal website, October 6, 2009. Author: Gautam Naik

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Childhood and education of Carol Greider

Carol Widney Greider was born on April 15, 1961, in San Diego, California.

Both of her parents were academics. Her father was a physicist and her mother was a doctor of botany.

Carol Greider was the younger of two siblings. Her mother passed away when Carol was just seven years old.

She had difficulties in school, because she was dyslexic. However, an enthusiastic teacher piqued Carol’s interest in biology.

However, due to her brain disorder, which made it difficult for her to read and write normally, she finished her secondary studies with a low grade.

Carol Greider University Studies

Carol Greider had many difficulties entering the University because the qualities she had were not valued in the selectivity exams.

California Unversity
The University of California, Los Angeles, also known by its acronym, UCLA. Credit: Wikipedia. Author: Satyriconi

Thanks to her tenacity, sympathy and intelligence, she was accepted at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

In 1983, Carol Greider received her BA in Biology from the University of California. She immediately decided to hone her knowledge in Germany.

After a one-year stay in Germany, Carol Greider returned to California convinced that her vocation was to work as a scientific researcher in a laboratory.

During her years of study, Carol had been especially interested in telomeres and telomerase.

Brief history of telomeres

Joseph Grafton Gall (born April 14, 1928) was an American cell biologist who was noted for his studies of the details of the structure and function of chromosomes.

Doctor Gall
Joseph Gall was the founder of modern molecular biology. Credit: web laskerfoundation.org

In those years, Joseph Gall had started the cultivation of a freshwater ciliated protozoan, called Tetrahymena, whose genome is made up of many small linear minichromosomes.

And he had devised a method to isolate the many chromosome ends that Tetrahymena possesses. These ends are called telomeres.

Telomere
Telomeres are the ends of chromosomes. Credit: Wikipedia

To better understand this research, it must be remembered that the hereditary material of living organisms, that is, DNA, is highly folded and coiled on itself inside cells, forming chromosomes.

Protecting the ends of the chromosomes are the so-called telomeres, a kind of “hood” whose essential function is to maintain chromosome stability.

When a cell divides to generate two daughter cells, its chromosomes need to be completely duplicated, over their entire length, and not damaged.

There is a specific enzyme called telomerase which is responsible for these chromosomes to be copied faithfully.

In the 1930s, these terminal structures were shown to have special properties to prevent chromosomes from being damaged. They were called telomeres. But its operation remained an enigma.

The high proportion of chromosome ends available in the protozoan Tetrahymena made it an excellent model for analyzing telomeres.

In 1978, Joseph Gall commissioned Elizabeth Blackburn to help him identify the molecular composition of telomeres in Tetrahymena.

Since 1979, Elizabeth Blackburn was researching these issues at the University of Berkeley.

Carol Greider asked Elizabeth Blackburn for a job

During her undergraduate years in Biology, Carol Greider had met Elizabeth Blackburn.

Therefore, she was confident enough to request an interview. She asked if she could work in her laboratory and specifically if she could work on the telomere elongation project.

Elizabeth Blackburn immediately sensed that the very young Carol Greider was an enterprising person, supplementing her biochemistry knowledge with DNA cloning techniques and other skills necessary for the work she and her team were doing in the laboratory.

Later, Carol Greider said that Elizabeth Blackburn responded immediately,in less than a minute“, affirmatively to the two requests.

This is how, in that year 1984, a period of fruitful collaboration began between these two extraordinary scientists.

Carol Greider
Carol Greider, was researching at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Credit: web scientificwomen.com

At just twenty-three years old, working twelve hours a day in the laboratory with her teacher, Carol Gleider identified a new enzyme, telomerase, a substance that protects the chromosomes of cells.

Carol Gleider received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1987.

Later, she transferred to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States.

She is married and has two sons.

Carol Greider has received numerous awards

  • Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research (2006) together with Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak.
  • Louisa Gross Horwitz Award (2007) along with Elizabeth Blackburn and Joseph G. Gall.
  • Paul-Ehrlich and Ludwig-Darmstaedter Award (2009) together with Elizabeth Blackburn.
  • Nobel Prize in Medicine (2009), along with Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak.

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