Telomerase consists of a reverse transcriptase (TERT) and an RNA that contains a template for telomere-repeat extension. Telomerase is required to prevent telomere erosion and its activity or lack thereof is important for tumorigenesis and ageing. Telomerase has been identified in numerous organisms but it has not been studied in kinetoplastid protozoa. Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness, evades the host immune response by frequently changing its variant surface glycoprotein (VSG). The single expressed VSG is transcribed from one of 20 subtelomeric 'Expression Sites', but the role telomeres might play in regulating VSG transcription and switching is unknown. We identified and sequenced the T.brucei TERT gene. Deleting TERT resulted in progressive telomere shortening of 3&endash;6 bp per generation. In other organisms, the rate of telomere shortening is proportional to the length of the terminal 3' single-strand overhang. In T.brucei, G-overhangs were undetectable (<30 nt) by in-gel hybridization. The rate of telomere shortening therefore, agrees with the predicted shortening due to the end replication problem, and is consistent with our observation that G-overhangs are short. Trypanosomes whose telomere length can be manipulated provide a new tool to investigate the role of telomeres in antigenic variation.