A Mammoth Discovery…

Creatures in the animal kingdom, from tiny ones like wasps to the largest mammals on earth, the elephants, possess characteristic defence mechanisms against one of the most deadly and, unfortunately, common illnesses: cancer.

In my previous blog post , I wrote about Brazilian wasps having a protein (Polybia-MP1) that could help fight cancer.

In this post, I focus on the descendants of the mammoth: elephants.

Now cancer patients are rarely elephants even though by convention, they should be extremely cancer-prone. The theory behind this is that every time a cell divides, the DNA divides. Every time a DNA divides, there is a chance for mutation(s), which paves the path for formation of cancerous cells. So every time a cell divides, an organism is a step closer to mutated DNA and since larger animals have more cells, theoretically they should have more chances for mutation and hence, cancer.

Therefore, the massive elephant should have cancer more often than humans. But that is not in the case. 

Why? The captivating answer to that lies in the DNA of elephants. Over the course of evolution, elephants have gained extra copies of the p53 gene, a gene that aids cancer prevention. The p53 gene encodes a protein that checks for damaged DNA (source of cancer) and either induces cells to repair mutated DNA, or stops the cell from dividing or still yet, engenders cells to commit suicide a.k.a apoptosis.
So elephants have twenty pairs of the p53 gene compared to just one copy of the gene in humans.
What is known up to now is that elephant cells fight cancer with these extra p53 genes. How exactly they do this, is the subject of future research. Some speculation by researchers can be read at the full article at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/13/science/why-elephants-get-less-cancer.html?_r=0


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