Trio win Nobel Prize for research into ageing

Australian-American researcher Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider and Jack Szostak of the United States won the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday for identifying a key switch in cellular ageing.

The trio were honoured for discovering how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the role of an enzyme called telomerase in maintaining or stripping away this vital shield.

"The award of the Nobel Prize recognises the discovery of a fundamental mechanism in the cell, a discovery that has stimulated the development of new therapeutic strategies," the Nobel jury said.

Blackburn and Greider are only the ninth and tenth women to win the Nobel Medicine Prize since 1901 -- out of a total 195 medicine laureates -- and this is the first time two women have shared the honour.List of female winners.

But Nobel committee secretary Goeran Hansson said gender played no part in the decision.

"They're not being honoured because they are women. They are being honoured because they've made a fundamentally important discovery," he told Swedish news agency TT.

Australia has greeted the news by hailing its first female Nobel laureate as an inspiration after she scooped the key global prize.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd led the praise for the 60-year-old biologist, who he said could inspire other Australian women to similar achievements.Related article: Australian PM praises Nobel laureate

"This is a great day for Australian science," Rudd said. "Professor Blackburn's achievements are an inspiration for all Australian scientists and those considering a career in science, especially young women.

The new laureates meanwhile said they were overjoyed at winning the accolade.

Greider, 48, a molecular biology and genetics professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, told Swedish Radio she was "just thrilled."Carol Greider's reaction.

"I just think that the recognition for curiosity-driven basic science is very, very nice," she said, adding that she was up doing laundry in the US when the early-morning call came from Sweden.

Blackburn, 60, who teaches biology and physiology at the University of California in San Francisco, said she knew when they made their Christmas Day 1984 discovery that they were on to something big.

"I felt very excited ... and I thought this is very interesting, this is a very important result, and you don't often feel that about a result," said Blackburn, who was inspired to become a scientist when she read as a teenager a biography about double-Nobel laureate Marie Curie.

Australia hailed its first female Nobel winner.

"Her achievement is an inspiration for all Australian scientists and those considering a career in science -- especially for young women," acting science minister Craig Emerson said.

Szostak, 56, a professor of genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said he planned to celebrate with "a big party at some point" and was "looking forward to seeing Stockholm in winter with the kids" at the Nobel prize ceremony in December.

AFP/Armend Nimani