Monday, October 5, 2009

Trivia, Telomeres, and the Nobel Prize

Once upon a time, a few weeks after the 2000 election, I was on a long Southwest flight full of antsy, pre-Thanksgiving energy. Since the flight attendants for some reason had corporate swag to give away, they decided to hold a trivia contest. A flight attendant announced a question over the PA, and the first person to ring their attendant call button and give the right answer won a prize. The prizes included tshirts, pens, and bottles of Wild Turkey.

I won a pen for the correct answer "William Jefferson Clinton", to the question, "Who is the president of the United States?", which was a trick question, since the Bush v. Gore election still had no clear winner.

One question was, "What is a telomere?" I had no idea, and was embarrassed -- it's rare for me to lose a science trivia question. Afterward, I asked the flight attendant. He gave a quick explanation (the tips of chromosomes, which control aging), and I remembered reading about them in an article about Dolly the cloned sheep, asking whether her short telomeres had caused her short life. I also asked the flight attendant why he knew so much about DNA. He had been a research biologist, got tired of the pressure, and took a job at Southwest.

So that's the roundabout way that I learned about telomeres, which are the subject of this year's Nobel Prize for Medicine.

1 comment:

Ivastar said...

Check out this interview with Dr. Carol W. Greider, one of the three people who share the price. She talks about the acceptance of women in science: