Query Letter: Telomeres and Their Association with Aging and Cancer

Kailyn Valido
Horton #333
411 Skipper Bowles Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
kvalido@live.unc.edu
February 4, 2016

Dear Ms. Boyd,

It has delightfully come to my attention that you are in need of an interesting, informative article for your Nature Genetics journal. I am a first-year student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill currently taking a class in genetics, and my recently written article on the revolutionary implications of telomeres in human DNA might just interest you.

The majority of people dread the inevitability of aging, a genetically programmed process. It is evident that many wish that they could somehow rewind time to relive their 20’s and 30’s—a range of years where most people do not have wrinkles, graying hair, and frequent thoughts about “The Great Unknown.” What if one can extend this period of youthfulness and vivacity? What if one can delay this seemingly undesirable process of aging?

This is where the notion of telomeres comes into play. Telomeres are essentially repeated sequences of DNA at the end of eukaryotic chromosomes. These sequences are in the form of repeated TTAGGG bases on one strand of DNA and AATCCC bases on the complementary DNA strand. Analogous to the plastic tips on shoelaces, telomeres ultimately provide the chromosome with protection—up to a certain point.

Synthesized by the enzyme telomerase, telomeres get shorter every time a cell undergoes division. Because there is not enough telomerase for somatic—or body—cells, the gene for them is inactive and telomeres consequently shorten. The shorter the telomere length, the less amount of times a cell can divide. Once the telomeres become too short, the cell cannot divide, and so it ages and inevitably dies.

For this reason, telomere shortening has been linked to the aging process. Scientists, however, are still unsure of whether telomere shortening is merely a sign of aging, such as wrinkles, or an actual contributing factor. If telomere shortening is proven to be a definite cause of aging, this information would be an immense breakthrough in the medical field. Scientists may be able to extend human lifespan greatly by somehow devising a mechanism to restore or preserve telomere length.

In my article, I will discuss small-scale scientific studies exploring the implications of telomere length and aging in the context of lifestyle habits, such as a healthy diet, exercise, and meditation. I will, however, explore the more troubling connection between telomeres and cancer. Cancer cells escape their death by having a consistently active telomerase, preventing telomeres from shortening. This in turn allows these cells to grow an abnormal amount of times to form tumors. If telomeres can be lengthened to extend one’s lifespan, would that increase a person’s risk of cancer? Perhaps, but scientists remain hopeful and are even trying to utilize telomeres as a target for curing cancer.

I hope you consider my article as an addition to your journal. It would be a great fit due to its intriguing relevancy and informational nature.

Sincerely,
Kailyn Valido

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