Immortal cancer cells escape telomere loss by switching on a gene that expresses an enzyme called telomerase. This unusual enzyme is a reverse transcriptase that has an RNA template and a catalytic portion. At each round of DNA replication, telomerase adds onto the existing telomeres the nucleotides that would otherwise have been lost, thus maintaining a constant telomere length. In other words, telomerase acts as an "immortalizing" enzyme. In addition, it has several associated proteins whose roles are still under investigation.

reverse transcriptase enzyme that copies RNA into DNA

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