Telomeres are the protein-DNA structures at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. In yeast, and probably most other eukaryotes, telomeres are essential. They allow the cell to distinguish intact from broken chromosomes, protect chromosomes from degradation, and are substrates for novel replication mechanisms. Telomeres are usually replicated by telomerase, a telomere-specific reverse transcriptase, although telomerase-independent mechanisms of telomere maintenance exist, Telomere replication is both cell cycle- and developmentally regulated, and its control is likely to be complex. Because telomere loss causes the kinds of chromosomal changes associated with cancer and aging, an understanding of telomere biology has medical relevance.
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