The primary determinant for telomere replication is the enzyme telomerase, responsible for elongating the G-rich strand of the telomere. The only component of this enzyme that has been identified in Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the TLC1 gene, encoding the telomerase RNA subunit. However, a yeast strain defective for the EST1 gene exhibits the same phenotypes (progressively shorter telomeres and a senescence phenotype) as a strain deleted for TLC1, suggesting that EST1 encodes either a component of telomerase or some other factor essential for telomerase function. We designed a multitiered screen that led to the isolation of 22 mutants that display the same phenotypes as est1 and tlc1 mutant strains. These mutations mapped to four complementation groups: the previously identified EST1 gene and three additional genes, called EST2, EST3 and EST4. Cloning of the EST2 gene demonstrated that it encodes a large, extremely basic novel protein with no motifs that provide clues as to function. Epistasis analysis indicated that the four EST genes function in the same pathway for telomere replication as defined by the TLC1 gene, suggesting that the EST genes encode either components of telomerase or factors that positively regulate telomerase activity.
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