It was in the year 1971, when the problem of chromosomes, that how they replicate right up to the tip and also the impossible replication in a 5’ 3’ direction, was first taken into notice by Russian theorist Alexei Olovnikov. To solve this Olovnikov suggested in every replicative phase when new chromosomes are formed, a little of DNA sequences would be lost until a critical level was reached, and it is at this point when DNA replication would completely stop.
How and Why Do Telomeres Shorten?
A telomere is a cushion or a buffer kind of an element found at the end of a chromosome, this is a region of repetitive DNA. This telomere is sacrificial in nature, for the fact that it protects the end of chromosome from deterioration, rather it loses a little of itself in process of replication. This is because the genes could be lost if the chromosome deteriorated.
During the typical process of a cell division, many enzymes are involved that assist in duplication of DNA and the chromosomes. The problems arises when the DNA cannot continue this process of duplication all the way to the end of chromosome, no matter what direction.
Let us suppose there were no such thing as telomere. The chromosome starts to replicate, in this process of chromosome or DNA replication, a little of end of each chromosome is truncated, hence the information on the gene is lost. This phenomena was pioneered by James Watson in 1972, who called it “end replication process”.
On the contrary, the telomere is shortened in a process of DNA replication. So we can conclude that a telomere is a disposable buffer attached to the end of each chromosome. The metaphor or which would be like the plastic tips on the tip of the show laces that keeps them form fraying.
Due to this nature of telomere shortening, there comes a time when it is completely finished and replication of that chromosome stops. We can say that the telomere shortening mechanism normally limits cells to a fixed number of divisions and studies suggest that this is responsible for aging on the cellular level and sets a limit on lifespans.
When these telomeres are consumed, the cells die out because in absence of telomeres, the chromosomes might fuse with each other during cell division that can cause abnormalities like cancer. Cells that manage to survive even after the telomeres have been consumed, are called “immortal cells”.
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