Telomeres, which scientists consider as cell clocks that delay aging, are structures found at the ends of chromosomes. The longer the telomeres, the longer it takes for the cell to age.
Base on what we have established, longer telomeres
are preferable. But it has also been found that telomeres that are stretched too long may promote high incidence of cancer.
When they thought that an ultimate bottleneck has been reached in the enhancement of telomeres, scientists just discovered that there is actually a protein that can fine-tune it - not unusually long but long enough to cause a delay to aging.
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) discovered TZAP, a protein that binds and determines the length of telomeres.
"You are born with telomeres of a certain length, and every time a cell divides, it loses a little bit of the telomere. Once the telomere is too short, the cell cannot divide anymore," explained Professor Eros Lazzerini Denchi, study author and TSRI Associate.
"This cellular clock needs to be finely tuned to allow sufficient cell divisions to develop differentiated tissues and maintain renewable tissues in our body and, at the same time, to limit the proliferation of cancerous cells."
TZAP regulates telomere trimming
and ensures that telomeres do not become too long.
Scientists are surprised with the discovery of TZAP. For decades, only two proteins are known to specifically bind telomeres: telomerase enzyme and a protein complex known as the Shelterin complex.
This discovery may invite more questions, but its significance to anti-aging methods and even cancer prevention is irrefutable.
The study is published in Science.
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