Jens Schmidt

Portrait Jens SchmidtContact
Office:  517-353-3820
Lab:  517-353-3818
IQ DIVISION – Synthetic Biology



Jens Schmidt is an Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology within the College of Human Medicine. At MSU, Schmidt’s laboratory will use a combination of cell biological and biophysical approaches to explain how human cells maintain their genomic integrity, which is an important barrier for cancer formation.

He received his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, and his Ph.D. in Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he studied the molecular mechanisms of chromosome segregation with Dr. Iain Cheeseman. Dr. Schmidt went on to complete his postdoctoral work with Dr. Tom Cech in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder. During this time he studied the recruitment of telomerase to telomeres, a pathway critical for cancer cell survival, using genome editing and single molecule live cell imaging approaches.

The Schmidt Lab

Single Molecule Live Cell ImagingThe Schmidt lab focuses on several aspects of telomerase-mediated telomere maintenance to develop a quantitative understanding of this process in human cells, with the ultimate goal of targeting telomerase as an approach for cancer therapy. Telomeres, the ends of linear human chromosomes, shrink during each cell division. To facilitate the continuous proliferation of germ cells, stem cells, and importantly most cancer cells express telomerase, an RNA containing reverse transcriptase. Telomerase adds DNA back to the chromosome ends to counteract the shortening that occurs during DNA replication.

Ongoing Research Projects:

Telomerase Recruitment to Telomeres

Telomerase is recruited to telomeres via a direct interaction of the telomerase reverse transcriptase protein TERT and the shelterin complex component TPP1. We have demonstrated that telomerase forms two types of interactions with telomeres: Fast probing interactions, and long-static interactions, which likely represent telomere elongation events. To understand telomere length homeostasis we have to address two critical questions. How is the formation of long-static interactions regulated by individual telomeres, and how many nucleotides does telomerase add to the telomere during a single elongation event? Both of these questions, along with many others, are the subject of ongoing research projects in the lab.

Telomerase Catalysis

Telomerase is a unique RNA containing reverse transcriptase. It adds telomeric repeats to the chromosome end by copying the template sequence contained in its RNA subunit. A unique aspect of telomerase is that it can translocate the substrate relative to the template sequence to processively synthesize multiple telomeric repeats in a single association event. Understanding the biochemical properties of telomerase is critical to building a quantitative model of telomere length homeostasis. We use a combination of biochemical and single-molecule approaches to analyze all aspects of the telomerase catalytic cycle.