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Why Do Elephants Rarely Get Cancer?

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by

Maria Butiu

on 1 December 2015

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Transcript of Why Do Elephants Rarely Get Cancer?

Cancer rates
So then why aren't elephants getting cancer?
After conducting a number of studies, scientists are now attributing the discrepancy between cancer rates in elephants vs. humans to the fact that while the human genome only has
2
alleles of the gene that encodes a tumor suppressor known as
p53
, elephants possess
40
modified copies of this gene.
Size
Elephants have a far greater number of cells than humans


Greater number of cell divisions



Greater chance for cancer-causing mutation in DNA to occur

....right?
Studies show that while cancer is the cause of nearly 25% of human deaths, it only accounts for 5% of elephant deaths.
Although this discovery will have few applications in cancer treatment, it is a step towards understanding cancer prevention.
How did elephants get 40 copies of this gene?
These 40 copies have been incorporated in the elephant genome over time. They started out as
duplication mutations
in the chromosomes. Since the mutation prevented cancer, elephants that had it lived longer lives, and reproduced more often, thus passing this mutation on to their offspring.
What is p53?
a protein known for its cancer inhibiting properties
creates an efficient mechanism within cells that leads to the apoptosis of damaged cells that could cause cancer.
Elephants vs. Humans
what does this mean for cancer research?
p53
Why Do Elephants Rarely Get Cancer?
Full transcript