This past Summer an article was released revealing the findings of Dr. Vincent J. Lynch and other scientists from the University of Chicago. These scientists have discovered a rare mutation in the genes of elephants while looking for a reason behind their small probabilities of cancer. This rare mutation starts in the p53 gene. The p53 gene, in short, is a tumor suppressant gene that inhibits the formation of tumors. p53 makes a protein that senses damaged DNA and responds by either repairing or by destroying the damaged cells.
The evolved p53 gene in elephants reacts differently because when the protein senses damaged DNA, it does not even think about fixing it, the protein just automatically destroys them so they will not have a chance to reproduce their mutation. Not only do their p53 genes immediately eliminate the problem, but they also have so many more than humans. Humans only have one copy of p53 while elephants have 20 copies.
The variation in the p53 gene sparked scientists to look a little deeper, which unearthed a very interesting mutation that explains why elephants are not as prone to cancer. Both humans and elephants have a gene called LIF. While humans have only one LIF gene, elephants seem to contain 10. After looking closer into these LIF genes scientists discovered one LIF6 gene, which is a gene that has been seen before in animals, but has been thought to have become extinct up until this discovery in modern day elephants. LIF6 has seemingly 'resurrected' itself, which is why scientists are referring to it as the 'Zombie Gene'.
Normally when the proteins are released from the p53 gene, LIF genes are instructed to stop each damaged cell's production of proteins. However, LIF6 mutated in order to be able to read the protein made by p53, which makes LIF6 able to go in and actually kill the damaged cells instead of just impeding their ability of making proteins. LIF6 kills the cell by attacking the mitochondria, which turns out to be very poisonous to the cell. The mitochondria is ripped open, poisons the cell, and ultimately kills the cell.
Although there are still many factors to look into, I think it is a wonderful beginning to a major study on the way the LIF6 gene works. To be able to see this gene live and in action could be very beneficial to discovering what we can do as far as medication in humans. I think this study could be the catalyst to many others in order to see what can be done to manipulate the gene in order to possibly take down one of the biggest forms of disease in our world today.