Thursday, November 8, 2018

Elephant Genes Protecting the Species from Cancer

About 11 to 25 percent of deaths in humans are due to cancer.  It would seem as if a larger animal would have more of a risk of developing cancer, because they have a larger number of cells in which the cancer could grow within.  However, this is not the case regarding elephants, who possess a specific gene that seems to protect them from the disease.  The gene is called LIF6 and was
resurrected almost 60 million years ago and elephants and their ancestors are the only species to possess it.  The gene is triggered by a gene called TP53, which causes cells to stop working upon the first sign of damage or signs of cancer.   They are able to do this by producing a protein that can detect DNA damage in the cell and will proceed to repair the cell or destruct itself. This prevents any damaged cells from growing into cancerous cells.  Although most animals have the TP53 gene, humans only possess one copy of the gene, while elephants have 20, which is what triggers the LIF6 gene.  Due to this only 4 percent of elephants die of cancer, as compared to the 11 to 25 percent of humans.  A study at the University of Chicago tested elephant tissue cells by damaging the cell's DNA which made the LIF6 eight times more active than they would be had the cell's not been damaged, showing that it is definitely part of the cause for elephant's resistance to cancer.  Although more work needs to be done on the theory, this discovery could help cancer research for other species, including humans.

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