In humans, the telomere consists of tandem 5'TTAGGG3' DNA repeats on both ends of all 46 chromosomes. Telomere shortening has been linked to aging and age-related diseases. Similarly, telomere length changes have been associated with chemical exposure, molecular-level DNA damage, and tumor development. Telomere elongation has been associated to tumor development, caused due to chemical exposure and molecular-level DNA damage. The methods used to study these effects mostly rely on average telomere length as a biomarker. The mechanisms regulating subtelomere-specific and haplotype-specific telomere lengths in humans remain understudied and poorly understood, primarily because of technical limitations in obtaining these data for all chromosomes. Recent studies have shown that it is the short telomeres that are crucial in preserving chromosome stability. The identity and frequency of specific critically short telomeres potentially is a useful biomarker for studying aging, age-related diseases, and cancer. Here, we will briefly review the role of telomere length, its measurement, and our recent single-molecule telomere length measurement assay. With this assay, one can measure individual telomere lengths as well as identify their physically linked subtelomeric DNA. This assay can also positively detect telomere loss, characterize novel subtelomeric variants, haplotypes, and previously uncharacterized recombined subtelomeres. We will also discuss its applications in aging cells and cancer cells, highlighting the utility of the single molecule telomere length assay.
Keywords: Optical mapping; Telomere dysfunction; Telomere length.
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