Elizabeth Blackburn

Elizabeth Blackburn

With AIC Gold Medal, 2012
Born Elizabeth Helen Blackburn
(1948-11-26) 26 November 1948
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Residence US
Citizenship Australian and American
Fields Molecular biology
Alma mater
Thesis Sequence studies on bacteriophage ØX174 DNA by transcription (1974)
Doctoral advisor Frederick Sanger[1]
Doctoral students include Carol W. Greider
Notable awards

Elizabeth Helen Blackburn, AC, FRS,[2] FAA, FRSN (born 26 November 1948) is an Australian-American Nobel laureate who is currently the President of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.[3] Previously she was a biological researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who studied the telomere, a structure at the end of chromosomes that protects the chromosome. Blackburn co-discovered telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes the telomere. For this work, she was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, sharing it with Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak, becoming the only Tasmanian-born Nobel laureate. She also worked in medical ethics, and was controversially dismissed from the Bush Administration's President's Council on Bioethics.[4]

Early life and education

Elizabeth Helen Blackburn was born in Hobart, Tasmania on 26 November 1948. Her family moved to the town when she was four, where she attended the Broadland House Church of England Girls' Grammar School (later amalgamated with Launceston Church Grammar School) until the age of sixteen. Upon her family's relocation to Melbourne, she then attended University High School, and ultimately gained very high marks in the end-of-year final statewide matriculation exams.[5] She went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in 1970 and Master of Science in 1972, both from the University of Melbourne and her PhD in 1974 from the University of Cambridge[6] on the bacteriophage Phi X 174 while a student of Darwin College, Cambridge. She then carried out postdoctoral work in molecular and cellular biology between 1975 and 1977 at Yale University.[7]

Work in molecular biology

In 1981, Blackburn joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, in the Department of Molecular Biology. In 1990, she moved across the San Francisco Bay to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where she served as the Department Chairwoman from 1993 to 1999. Blackburn is currently the Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology at UCSF, and a non-resident fellow of the Salk Institute. She is the president-elect of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Blackburn co-discovered telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes the telomere. Blackburn recalls:[8]

Carol had done this experiment, and we stood, just in the lab, and I remember sort of standing there, and she had this – we call it a gel. It's an autoradiogram, because there was trace amounts of radioactivity that were used to develop an image of the separated DNA products of what turned out to be the telomerase enzyme reaction. I don't remember any details in that area, 'Ah! This could be very big. This looks just right.' It had a pattern to it. There was a regularity to it. There was something that was not just sort of garbage there, and that was really kind of coming through, even though we look back at it now, we'd say, technically, there was this, that and the other, but it was a pattern shining through, and it just had this sort of sense, 'Ah! There's something real here.'

For this work, she was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, sharing it with Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak.

In recent years Blackburn and her colleagues have been investigating the effect of stress on telomerase and telomeres[9] with particular emphasis on mindfulness meditation.[10][11] She is also one of several biologists (and one of two Nobel Prize laureates) in the 1995 science documentary Death by Design/The Life and Times of Life and Times.

Studies suggest that chronic psychological stress may accelerate ageing at the cellular level. Intimate partner violence was found to shorten telomere length in formerly abused women versus never abused women, possibly causing poorer overall health and greater morbidity in abused women.[12]


Blackburn was appointed a member of the President's Council on Bioethics in 2002. She supported human embryonic cell research, in opposition to the Bush Administration. Her Council terms were terminated by White House directive on 27 February 2004.[13] This was followed by expressions of outrage over her removal by many scientists, who maintained that she was fired because of political opposition to her advice.[14]

"There is a growing sense that scientific research—which, after all, is defined by the quest for truth—is being manipulated for political ends," wrote Blackburn. "There is evidence that such manipulation is being achieved through the stacking of the membership of advisory bodies and through the delay and misrepresentation of their reports."[15][16]

Blackburn serves on the Science Advisory Board of the Genetics Policy Institute.

Awards and honors

Elizabeth Blackburn (Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology 2009) in Stockholm, June 2016

In 2007, Blackburn was listed among Time Magazine's The TIME 100—The People Who Shape Our World.[29]

Personal life

Blackburn lives in San Francisco with her husband, John W. Sedat, and has a son, Benjamin.[30]


  1. "Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2009-10-05.
  2. 1 2 3 "Fellows of the Royal Society". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2015-03-16.
  3. "Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn named Salk Institute President". Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  4. Brady, Catherine (2007). Elizabeth Blackburn and the Story of Telomeres. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-02622-2.
  5. Brady 2007, pp. 1–13
  6. Blackburn, E. H. (1974). Sequence studies on bacteriophage ØX174 DNA by transcription (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge.
  7. "Elizabeth Blackburn Profile at UCSF". Retrieved 25 November 2013.
  8. "Elizabeth Blackburn Interview (by Carol Greider page: 2 / 8) Nobel Prize in Medicine". American Academy of Achievement. 17 November 2009. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  9. Epel ES, Lin J, Dhabhar FS, Wolkowitz OM, Puterman E, Karan L, Blackburn EH (2010). "Dynamics of telomerase activity in response to acute psychological stress". Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 24 (4): 531–539. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2009.11.018. PMC 2856774Freely accessible. PMID 20018236.
  10. Jacobs TL, Epel ES, Lin J, Blackburn EH, Wolkowitz OM, Bridwell DA, Zanesco AP, Aichele SR, Sahdra BK, Maclean KA, King BG, Shaver PR, Rosenberg EL, Ferrer E, Wallace BA, Saron CD (2010). "Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators". Psychoneuroendocrinology. 36 (5): 664–681. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.09.010. PMID 21035949.
  11. Elissa Epel; Jennifer Daubenmier; Judith Tedlie Moskowitz; Susan Folkman; Elizabeth Blackburn (2009). "Can Meditation Slow Rate of Cellular Aging? Cognitive Stress, Mindfulness, and Telomeres". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1172 (1): 34–53. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04414.x. PMC 3057175Freely accessible. PMID 19735238.
  12. Janice Humphreys; Elissa S. Epel; Bruce A. Cooper; Jue Lin; Elizabeth H. Blackburn; Kathryn A. Lee (2012). "Telomere Shortening in Formerly Abused and Never Abused Women". Biological Research for Nursing. 14 (2): 115–123. doi:10.1177/1099800411398479.
  13. Blackburn, E. & Rowley, J. (2004). "Reason as Our Guide". PLoS Biology. 2 (4): e116. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020116. PMC 359389Freely accessible. PMID 15024408.
  14. "Scientists rally around stem cell advocate fired by Bush". USA Today. Associated Press. 19 March 2004. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  15. Bioethics and the Political Distortion of Biomedical Science Elizabeth Blackburn, N Engl J Med 350:1379–1380 (1 April 2004)
  16. A Nobel prize for a Bush critic By Andrew Leonard, Salon.com, 5 October 2009 Free text. Extensive quotation from Blackburn's article.She is an important scientist throughout the world.
  17. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
  18. "List of Fellows of the Royal Society 1660 – 2007" (PDF). Royal Society Library & Information Services. July 2007. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  19. http://www.nasonline.org/member-directory/members/64209.html
  20. "Nine receive honorary degrees from Harvard". Harvard University Gazette. Archived from the original on 2006-10-12.
  21. "Blackburn, Greider, and Szostak share Nobel". Dolan DNA Learning Center. Retrieved 2009-10-05.
  22. "Pearl Meister Greengard Prize – An International Award Recognizing Outstanding Women in Biomedical Research". The Rockefeller University. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  23. "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009". The Nobel Foundation. 5 October 2009. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  24. "It's an Honour". Itsanhonour.gov.au. 26 January 2010. Retrieved 2011-09-28.
  25. "Fellows of RSNSW". RSNSW. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
  26. "American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal". Chemical Heritage Foundation. March 30, 2012.
  27. "Royal Medal". Royal Society. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  28. "Officers of the AACR". Aacr.org. Retrieved 2011-09-28.
  29. Alice Park (3 May 2007). "The Time 100: Elizabeth Blackburn". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
  30. UCSF's Elizabeth Blackburn Receives Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, By Jennifer O'Brien. Press release.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Elizabeth Blackburn.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 12/1/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.