Recently Professor Immaculata De Vivo from Harvard Medical School lectured on the news and findings (Nurses Health Study) from the predictor power of telomere length in different type of outcomes such as mortality and cancer.
So now all of you (us) non-geneticists may wonder; who is this telomere and why is everyone focusing on how tall he is?
In short Professor De Vivo described it as such;
You have 23 pairs of chromosomes in your body. 22 regular and 1 sex-determining.
Your chromosomes can be stretched out in to long strings and those contain (are) DNA, RNA etc.
Say your chromosomes were like a shoestring. It is a string in itself but contains many other threads that make up its structure (DNA).
Now, you know that little plastic at the end of your shoestrings? It helps the shoestring (shoelace which ever you prefer) from dissolving in to a mess and keeps it from fringing.
Now that little protective plastic, that is the chromosomal version of a telomere.
The shorter the plastic the more risk of fringes.
The more your cells divide (you can say the more times you trample through the mud, have to wash or rub your shoestrings) the shorter the protective plastic gets.
Now hopefully you have some idea why telomere length can be of a value, it is like the local news channel in your body reporting what has happened inside of your cells.
In fact, if one thinks of it, telomere has been described in greek and norse mythology (Nornir).
One can compare it to the “thread of faith”. At birth the weavers of faith show up. One of them measures your thread of life, one spins it and one cuts it. The shorter the thread, the shorter the life. And now, several centuries later, this is exactly what we are discovering, the thread of destiny called telomere.
Now what’s exciting is;
You can affect the process of shortening of your telomere length
The older you father a child, the longer the telomere length of the child
Stress, particular chronic stress, shortens your telomere length
Exercise lengthens the telomere.
There is so much more to say. So many more studies to discover.
Trust me, telomere is something you should keep in mind and keep track of because it will be the fashion it item of the scientific world in 2013