Elephants are known for their majestic size and resilience, but also for their long lives. In fact, elephants live longer than any other land mammal, except for man, only beating them by less than a decade. However, elephants have 100 times more cells than humans do. This provides ample opportunity for cancer-causing mutations to occur. However, only 5% of elephants die of cancer, whereas up to 25% of humans do. This lead to the hypothesis that elephants’ bodies must have evolved a way to suppress cancer.
Scientists analyzed the DNA of both African and Asian elephants and discovered that both species had 20 copies of P53 gene, which is known to have tumor-suppressing qualities. In comparison, humans only have one copy of the P53 gene. Moreover, the genes of elephants’ smaller ancestors showed only a few copies of the P53 gene. This implies that as elephants evolved, their genetic code developed more copies of the P53 gene. However, although this is an interesting discovery, it does not answer all of scientists’ questions about the P53 gene.
I think that it is awesome that medical scientists may find cancer-fighting tactics from other members of the animal kingdom! Since it seems that the high amount of P53 gene in elephants is coordinated with their large size, it makes me wonder if this relationship of having natural cancer-fighting abilities transfers over to the genomes of other large mammals, such as whales. If that is the case, then those animals should be looked at too, since they may have their own ways of combatting cancer that could be useful in humans.