Like the rest of a chromosome, including its genes, telomeres are sequences of DNA – chains of chemical code. Like all DNA, they are made of four nucleic acid bases: G for guanine, A for adenine, T for thymine, and C for cytosine.
Telomeres are made of repeating sequences of TTAGGG on one strand paired with AATCCC on the other strand. Then, one section of the telomere is a “repeat” made of six “base pairs.”
In white blood cells, the length of telomeres ranges from 8,000 base pairs in newborns to 3,000 base pairs in adults and as low as 1,500 in elderly people. (An entire chromosome has about 150 million base pairs.) Each time it divides, an average cell loses 30 to 200 base pairs from the ends of its telomeres.
Cells normally can divide only about 50 to 70 times, with telomeres getting progressively shorter until the cells become senescent or die.