Genetics: Cancer Research in Humans and Elephants

Probably one of the most deadly disease and eraser of human beings, cancer, is the cause of death to approximately 17% of the world’s deaths. However, it’s not just a human killer but also affects a wide array of species. From dogs to cats to fishes as well as Tasmanian devils cancer wipes all, not forgetting duck-billed dinosaurs. Research says that these dinosaurs appear to have been plagued. Remarkably, the number of elephants that die from cancer is below 5%. Well, surprised? Yes, elephants have an average lifespan of 70 years and have approximately 100 times as many cells. Prolonged living in conjunction with additional cells increase the likelihood of cancer infection. This is because each time a cell divides, its DNA is copied snowballing the probability of inaccuracies. Continued existence and occurrence of these errors over a prolonged life increase chances for cancer development.

The point is that the more cells one has, the more openings that cancer has. For example, short people have a slightly lower cancer risk in comparison to tall people. Why? The inclusive amount of cells in their body might be the rationale behind this. Therefore, amongst species, the correlation of the number of cells with greater cancer risks doesn’t appear. However, within a species, this is very applicable. The phenomenon above is known as the Peto’s paradox titled after Richard Peto, an epidemiologist who initially pronounced this mystery in the 1970s. Comprehending the mystery behind resilience to cancer in larger species is mutually beneficial and fascinating. If we could apprehend how elephant cells outsmart tumors, maybe that data can be used to shrink the odds of cancer in humans.

A 2015 research by scientists made a revolution in comprehending elephant’s pliability to cancer. They worked independently in two academic institutions. These include the University of Chicago, Illinois and the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. A gene named p53 works as a tumor suppressor in humans that identifies unrepaired DNA injury triggering its death. When humans and other animals carry a single copy of p53, elephants carry a minimum of 20 copies. This, in turn, speeds up the destruction of impaired DNA.
During their investigation of elephant’s p53, findings showed that a pseudogene alias leukemia inhibitory factor 6 (LIF6) could be re-energized. Yet another puzzle. Once activated by p53, it produces a protein that punctures mitochondrial membranes. LIF6 responds to impaired DNA and kills it. Named the Zombie Gene, Vincent Lynch claims that this offers hope if it can be applied to humans and other animals to eradicate cancer.