Researchers have snuck a peak at the engine of telomerase, an important enzyme that aids chromosome stability.
In this week’s Nature, Emmanuel Skordalakes and colleagues present the high resolution, and long sought-after, structure of the catalytic subunit of telomerase. The enzyme adds DNA repeats to the ends of chromosomes, preventing them from becoming shorter with each cell division. Using modelling, it is possible to predict how single-stranded telomeric DNA and the RNA subunit of telomerase align and position the DNA primer at the active site.
Understanding the mechanism of telomerase activity will affect fields such as oncology, because telomerase is reactivated in many human cancers, and ageing, because the natural loss of telomerase activity with age causes cells to enter a state known as senescence, in which they can no longer divide.