Health News

Elephants Have Cancer-Defying Genes


Scientists have been curious for years about why the elephant has shown to be cancer-resistant against all odds. Today, that question is finally answered.

As noted by BBC News, many researchers operate under the assumption that every cell can, in theory, become cancerous. However, as only 25 percent of humans develop cancer, there must be some kind of natural defense system to ward off growths – and, indeed, there is.

Along with the element of chance, nature has provided certain genetic alarms to identify potential cancers and fight them off before they turn deadly. One of these, the TP53 gene, protects us by detecting precancerous cells and either repairing them or wiping them off the grid. Humans have one TP53 gene. It turns out that elephants have twenty.

HealthDay reports that the proliferation of this particular gene is a large part of why elephants only succumb to cancer roughly 5 percent of the time. In elephants, the TP53 gene is also significantly more aggressive than its human counterpart; rather than attempting to heal precancerous cells, elephant TP53s will go ahead and kill the damaged cell outright.

Scientists wonder if the human TP53 can be adjusted or ‘trained’ to focus more on destroying dangerous cells, which would be a stunning leap in preventative care.

While the discovery of elephants’ genetic superiority when it comes to beating cancer is exciting, and does open the door for lots of exploration into how those results can be replicated in humans, researchers are careful to point out that genes only go so far. On the one hand, humans did skyrocket developmentally over the past thousand years; medical advances haven’t exactly encouraged the evolution of stronger anti-cancer adaptations. On the other hand, humans are also the only living beings that go out of their way to cause cancer by engaging in risky activities such as smoking and sunbathing.

Scientists say that while they hope to learn from the elephant genome, in the meantime, you’d be better served by taking care of your body and remembering that sunscreen.

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