That Nobel Feeling

Carol Greider, 2009 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, recounts how it felt to get the big call from Stockholm and predicts its future impact on her work.
  • Transcript


Question: How did it feel to win the Nobel Prize?

Carol Greider: That was very exciting. It was a tremendous honor to get a phone call from Stockholm and to share it with Elizabeth Blackburn, who I've worked with for many years, as well as Jack Szostak. So I was very excited, and I was very happy that I got to share the day with my children. I was able to wake them up at five o'clock in the morning after I got this phone call and to have them there with me to share and to celebrate.

Question: What role did you and your co-winners each play in the prizewinning research?

Carol Greider: Yeah, Liz Blackburn and Jack Szostak had a collaboration in the early 1980s where they were interested in trying to understand the function of telomeres. And they had a collaboration which was a cross-country collaboration with one in Berkeley and the other one in Boston. And they would call each other up on the phone and explain experiments and send materials back and forth. And that collaboration resulted in this idea that there may be some way that the cells have of maintaining their chromosome ends. It was known that chromosome ends would shorten every time a cell divided, and in doing a collaboration to try and understand the functional components that make up the telomeres they proposed that there may be an enzyme that lengthens telomeres. And so then when I went to graduate school at U.C. Berkeley and I met Liz Blackburn, that was the project—after I had worked on a smaller project in her lab—that was the project that I thought was the most exciting to follow up on and find out, is there really going to be this hypothesized enzyme which can lengthen telomeres? So that's when I started to work with Liz Blackburn, and it was together in her laboratory that we discovered the enzyme telomerase.

Question: How do you think the prize will affect your work?

Carol Greider: I don't think I can anticipate the kinds of changes. Again, I never have been one to sort of think 10, 15 years out. I really just sort of try to follow what's exciting at the time. And it certainly is an honor, not just to me, but really to everybody working in the field of telomeres, because of course the prize is given to a person for a particular discovery, but the prize wouldn't be given unless there were many, many, many different people working in various laboratories that made it clear that that discovery was going to be important and has implications to it. So I really think that I'm sort of sharing this with the telomere field in general and many of my colleagues.

Recorded November 10th, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen