Elizabeth Blackburn on Replicating Ends of Lambda Phage DNA: Watson and Olovnikov Papers
  Elizabeth Blackburn     Biography    
Recorded: 01 Jun 2000

I think they both made somewhat independent sorts of contributions in a way. I think Jim [Watson] was very much more focused on: let’s think about the nature of the polymerases and somewhat more mechanistic. And I think Alexi Olovnikov who wrote in 1971 and therefore inaccessibly to most of us. The Russian publication made it inaccessible to a large fraction of people, unfortunately, and then there was a shortened ’73 version of it. But I think what he did was—he just said, “Yes, here’s this mechanistic problem.” He may have, you know, not quite got the details right. But I think he sort of laid it out and said there’s going to be more of a consequence for cells and it might happen over time. And I think that germ of that idea, while we know that there’s significant sorts of aspects of this that don’t really fit, but in its essence, yes, it was really an important contribution, but more thinking about, I’d say longer term consequences to cells. It wasn’t so, sort of, tied in mechanistically. Although he tried to do it. But I think Watson much more had a sort of mechanistic feel to what he was trying to convey. I think Olovnikov’s was more: what would be some consequences of that. But they republished in 1996; Olovnikov published in 1996 a sort of reexposition of what he was saying. That was interesting to read. But to be honest it’s been a while since I’ve gone back and tried to read the two side by side. I think they were coming from somewhat different places, was just my sense in terms of how they were thinking

I remember Watson’s. But I didn’t read Alexander Olovnikov till later. And, you know, he used interesting terms, things like that. And it was sort of more imaginative, in some ways. I mean in a good sense. So he I think is still in Russia, Olovnikov is. I never met him or anything like that. But I know he’s in contact with Hayflick (??) who worked on sinensis of primary mammalian cells in culture. And what Olovnikov said pertains very, very directly to those sinensis phenomena. It’s interesting. I don’t know whether he and Watson ever met.

Elizabeth Blackburn is a leader in the study of telomere function and biology. She earned her B.Sc. (1970) and M.Sc. (1972) degrees from the University of Melbourne in Australia, and her Ph.D. (1975) from the University of Cambridge in England. She did her postdoctoral work in molecular and cellular biology at Yale from 1975 to 1977. Blackburn is currently a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and a faculty member in the Program in Biological Sciences and Biomedical Sciences at UCSF as well as a Non-Resident Fellow of the Salk Institute.

Blackburn discovered the ribonucleprotein enzyme, telomerase, and currently researches the effect that the manipulation of telomerase activity has on cells. Her laboratory work intends to elucidate the biology of telomerase and telomere.

She attended her first meeting at CSHL in the late 1970’s and has organized Telomeres and Telomerase meetings at the Lab. Blackburn was a mentor to former Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory scientist, Dr. Carol W. Greider.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009 was awarded jointly to Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak "for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase".

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation, 2009

Blackburn is an elected Fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), the Royal Society of London (1992), and the American Academy of Microbiology (1993). She is a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences (1993) and Past-President of the American Society for Cell Biology (1998).