Australia’s first female Nobel prize winner is an inspiration to all young people, especially young women, Acting Science Minister Graig Emerson says.
Molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn and her American colleagues Carol Greider and Jack Szostak have been recognised by the Nobel committee for their major breakthrough in discovering the enzyme known as telomerase, that protects people’s genes from wearing down.
“Her scientific research is incredibly valuable to the human race … it offers the prospect of going further down the path of dealing with debilitating diseases which so far have defeated scientific research,” Dr Emerson told reporters in Sydney.
“It is a great day for Australian science and Elizabeth’s achievements are an inspiration to all young people, but especially young women who are considering a career in science.”
Research ‘could translate into fountain of youth’
Tasmanian-born Professor Blackburn has said her research could translate into a “fountain of youth” with the promise of human bodies that don’t grow frail with time or let cancer grow.
“We don’t think clocks will be turned back, but it is a question of whether we will extend our health span,” she said in San Francisco, where she is a professor at the University of California.
Dr Emerson said it was not essential for Australian scientists to be based overseas to get recognition, but the experience of being overseas and working with scientists from other countries was important.
“We have wonderful and very important scientific research going on here in Australia … somewhere around a million Australians are overseas but most of them, at some stage, do come back,” he said.
Blackburn hailed in home state
Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett congratulated Professor Blackburn, 60, saying it was wonderful to see someone who grew up in Tasmania be recognised at the highest level.
“Her success can be an inspiration to young Tasmanians in knowing that from this wonderful state it is possible to achieve anything,” he said in a statement.
“That is the powerful message that I would like our young people to take from Professor Blackburn’s magnificent achievement.
“It is a reminder to young people of the importance of science and research.”
Turnbull sends his congratulations
“Her insights have provided a foundation for our understanding of ageing and disease that has added enormously to medical treatments and health care throughout the world,” Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement.
“We congratulate Professor Blackburn on her award … and extend our best wishes for her continuing work into ageing and cell regeneration.”
In 1978, Dr Blackburn accepted a position as an assistant professor at the University of California, where she conducted her ground-breaking research into DNA.
Prof Blackburn was one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2007 and scientific circles have speculated for some time that she might be a Nobel laureate.