Anti-cancer Ability in Elephants May Help Human

A team of researchers studied mammalian junk DNA and discovered the extraordinary ability of elephants to circumvent cancer. In addition, the researchers also identified genes responsible for reducing elephant cell damage, which may be found in humans.

Most mammals in the world are susceptible to cancer, but the elephant’s resistance is surprisingly strong. They are not completely immune, but they have fewer cancers than humans, especially considering that their cell number is 100 times that of humans.

Cancer happens at random when cells divide. In fact about 1 out of every 20 elephants have cancer, which is less than a quarter of the cancer rate in humans.

Researchers have been trying to figure out why. A few years ago, a group of researchers found that the key to suppressing tumors was the p53 gene. There were 40 p53 in African elephants, and only one in humans. Now, out of P53, a team at the University of Utah discovered more clues about how it happened.

They studied “junk DNA” which was known to people for decades since the 1960s. Recent studies have found that it has other functions, such as the ability to control the timing and location of gene expression.

The researchers said: “People are used to calling it a non-coding area of ​​junk DNA, but I think this is a jungle and has not been studied in depth. We are exploring non-coding areas and trying to find out that genes may control new parts of different diseases.
The team searched for the part of the elephant genome common to all vertebrates, but it has evolved particularly fast in elephants. They are scanning these areas to find elements that help fight mutations, so as to find ways to fight cancer.

They discovered the DNA of the elephant, the vrk2 BCL11A gene. These genes are involved in DNA repair to prevent mutations. They are closely related to the acceleration of elephants. Because vertebrates have many common DNA, they have evolved from a common ancestor, and other mammals also have these genes. Human genes do not protect us from cancer like elephants, but knowing what these genes are can help us reduce their evolutionary speed in elephants and determine whether we can be in our own genes. Similar changes have taken place.

Future research will determine whether these accelerated areas can be applied to other mammals to help control human diseases.


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