Jack Szostak, a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, has won the 2009 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for pioneering work in the discovery of telomerase, an enzyme that protects chromosomes from degrading.
The work not only revealed a key cellular function, it also illuminated processes involved in disease and aging.
Szostak called the prize "the highest scientific honor" and thanked his co-winners and collaborators, Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, and Carol W. Greider of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
"It started off as work on a very basic question during the 1980s to discover and understand the operation of telomerase, an enzyme that forms protective caps called telomeres on the ends of chromosomes.
Subsequent research has shown that telomerase and telomeres hold key roles in cell-aging and death and also play a part in the aging of the entire organisms.