Elephants are more cancer resistant due to extra cancer-suppressing gene. The finding can lead to new ways to protect humans from cancer
Cancer is not too common in elephants. Just 4.8% elephant deaths are linked to cancer, which is an exceedingly low rate as compared to humans, who die 11% to 25% due to cancer.
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After many years of research, scientists finally have an explanation on why elephants rarely get cancer despite the fact they have more large bodies and cells divisions than humans and they should get more cancer than we do.
In a new research published in JAMA, scientists reveal that African elephants contain 20 copies of a cancer suppressing gene while humans only have one. The gene TP53 is referred to as the ‘guardian of genome’. It creates protein which protects cells from the effects of cancer-causing substances.
Researchers conducted comprehensive survey across 36 mammalian species including elephants. They found that extra TP53 makes elephants cancer resistant while humans possess a lot more risk of cell mutation and genome instability due to having one copy of the gene.
The findings are important as they can lead to new ways to protect humans from cancer.
“Compared with other mammalian species, elephants appeared to have a lower-than-expected rate of cancer, potentially related to multiple copies of TP53. Compared with human cells, elephant cells demonstrated increased apoptotic response following DNA damage. These findings, if replicated, could represent an evolutionary-based approach for understanding mechanisms related to cancer suppression.” Authors wrote in study.
Human inherits 1 copy of TP53 which is a combination of two alleles. Both alleles are crucial to prevent cancer. If one is absent, the other can’t function and can contribute in developing a rare cancer disposition disorder called ‘Li Fraumeni syndrome.’ LFS increases the risk of getting cancer as high as 90% during the lifetime.
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“Understanding the cellular mechanism of cancer suppression in animals could benefit humans at high risk of cancer, such as patients with LFS, and even the healthy, aging population.” study says.