Elizabeth H. Blackburn

Professor Elizabeth Helen Blackburn was born in Hobart on 26th November 1948. Originally from Australia, she became famous as a biological researcher at the University of California in San Francisco. Blackburn became famous owing to her discovery of telomerase which is an enzyme that fills in for telomere. Telomere is a structure which is present at the end of chromosomes and it helps in protecting the chromosomes.


Her parents, Dr. Harold Blackburn and Dr. Marcia Jack Blackburn, were pillars of support throughout her life. She presently resides in San Francisco along with her husband John Sedat, who is a molecular biologist and her son, Benjamin, who was born in the year 1986.


Blackburn did her high school at the University High School, Melbourne, Australia in the year 1966. Then she graduated from the University of Melbourne with a degree of MS in the 1971. She pursued her studies and completed her doctorate PhD in molecular biology at the Cambridge University in the year 1975. She was a scholar in Molecular and Cellular Biology the Yale from 2975 to 1977 and university of California at San Francisco from 1977 to 1978. Then she became a teacher in Molecular Biology at the University of California at Berkeley from the year 1978 to 1986. She was a professor first at university of California at Berkeley from 1986 to 1990 and then for Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California from the year 1990 to 1993. She remained as an Administrator in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology San Francisco from 1993 to 1999.

Career Highlights of Elizabeth H. Blackburn

Blackburn was appointed as a member of the President’s Council in 2001. She first came in the limelight in the year 2004 for wrong reasons. She was fired by President George w. Bush’s council on bioethics owing to her efforts and advice on the research of the human embryonic stem cell. This was unethical in the viewpoint of the Bush administration and hence they were not ready to fund this research. At this Blackburn strongly condemned this and wrote that the scientific research was defined by the quest for truth and that was being manipulated for political ends

Currently Blackburn is the Professor of Biology (Morris Herzstein) at UCSF and also a non-resident fellow at the Salk Institute. She also has found her place as the president-elect through popular vote, at the American Association for Cancer Research.


Blackburn isolated telomerase in 1984, along with her student Carol W. Greider. Telomerase was a newly discovered enzyme which was responsible for the synthesis of new telomeres in DNA and was also responsible for determining the length of the telomeres. Elizabeth Blackburn has done a lot of work on this subject and her work has helped to find the effects of telomeres in cancer, age processing and fungal infections.

Blackburn along with her colleagues investigated the effect of stress on telomerase and also on telomeres. Recently they discovered that psychological stress may accelerate aging right inside the cells. Overall poor health was observed in women who were abused resulting due to the shortening of telomere length. Owing to her efforts in these discoveries Elizabeth Blackburn was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology in the year 2009 along with her colleague Carol W. Greider and Jack Szostak.


Blackburn has been honoured many times owing to her discoveries and thesis. She was elected as the President of the American Society in the field of Cell Biology in the year 1998. She was also elected as the Fellow of the American Academy in the year 1991 and the Royal Society of London in the year 1992. Continuing the upward trend she was elected as a fellow in the year 1993 of the American Academy of Microbiology and similarly in 2000 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

She was also elected as the Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences in 1993. The Albert Lasker Award was given to her in the year 2006. The greatest honour came when she became one of the 100 Most Influential People of the Time Magazine in the year 2007.

Elizabeth Blackburn was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology 2009 along with her colleague Carol W. Greider and Jack Szostak. Blackburn is one of the several biologists in the documentary about life science also called the Death by Design.

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