Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes that protect chromosome ends from degradation and fusion. The enzyme telomerase maintains telomeres. Most human somatic cells jack telomerase, resulting in telomere damage that is associated with aging and cancer. A model for telomere damage in human cells is C. elegans trt-1 mutants that lack telomerase, resulting in telomere damage and sterility. Telomere damage is worsened when trt-1 mutants are starved. Upon starvation, juvenile worms can enter the dauer pathway, resulting in a significantly extended lifespan. Does starvation cause stress that damages telomeres while the dauer path- way protects telomeres? To address this, trt-1 mutants with the dauer pathway either blocked or aberrantly activated will be examined for exacerbated telomere damage upon starvation. In addition, the possible role of longevity genes in regulating trt-1-mediated telomere damage will be assessed. Mutations in RecQ helicases cause premature aging diseases in humans, and accelerated telomere damage in C. elegans trt-1 mutants. The role of RecQ helicases in telomere damage in the absence of telomerase will be studied. This research seeks to probe the potential interactions between telomeres, aging, and cancers.
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