telomerase in somatic or germ cells) experience progressive shortening of their telomeres in successive generations. After several generations, these mice show some signs of premature aging, such as graying, hair loss, and delayed wound healing. Through genetic engineering, it is also possible to create somatic cells that express telomerase. In these cells, telomeres do not shorten, cell aging is inhibited, and the cells will divide indefinitely.

Telomerase also appears to play a role in cancer. Cancer tumor cells have the capacity to divide indefinitely, and many tumor cells express the telomerase enzyme. As will be discussed in Chapter 21, cancer is a complex, multistep process that usually requires mutations in at least several genes. Telomerase activation alone does not lead to cancerous growth in most cells, but it does appear to be required along with other mutations for cancer to develop.

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