Dr. Titia de Lange (2014 Gairdner International Award recipient; The Rockefeller University) presenting her research at the University of Waterloo.
Guest post by Dr. David Rose
From unruly teenager and poor high school student, to international award-winning scientist: this was the story that Dr. Titia de Lange (above) told us about in her two lectures, delivered on October 27th as part of the Gairdner Foundation program. Professor de Lange has been awarded the 2014 Gairdner International Award for her discovery of shelterin and its role in telomere maintenance. But it was her evening recitation of her life story that elicited enthusiastic questions from high-school, undergraduate, and graduate students, as well as more senior members of the public. As a rebellious teen in Rotterdam, Titia snuck into rock concerts and did poorly in school. Subsequently, as a Biology undergraduate at Amsterdam, she skipped classes and worked all night as a typist for a movie company, almost dropping out! However, just in time, she met "the love of her life", chromosomes, and telomeres in particular. In the early 1970s, few people had heard of telomeres, to say nothing of studying them. De Lange was fascinated by how these chromosome ends, essentially DNA breaks, evade the complex systems of DNA damage and repair, which would result in fused chromosomes and bad consequences.
In the afternoon lecture, she took us through her fascinating saga of discovering the shelterin protein complex, how it specifically recognized the TTAGGG telomeric repeat in humans, how it detects the DNA ends and tethers them into protective t-loops to protect them from the damage response. It was obvious why Professor de Lange is a deserving recipient of the Gairdner. That said, her final words were an acknowledgment of her laboratory team. Specifically, she cited how her team's hard work and fun times have made her career in science so rewarding.
Group photo with, from left to right, Ronald E. Pearlman (Gairdner Foundation), Titia de Lange (2014 Gairdner International Award recipient; The Rockefeller University), and David Rose (Chair, Department of Biology).