Photo of group of elephants

Preventing cancer? Elephants may be up to the TUSK.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Every cell has a chance to develop cancer. So within a species, larger animals, who have more cells, have higher cancer risk. Larger humans have higher risk of cancer, and so do larger dogs! But what about the BIGGEST animals, like elephants?

Enter Juan Vazquez and Vincent Lynch from the University of Chicago. 

This dynamic duo first analyzed the DNA of fifteen different African mammal species. This included sloths, manatees, and even now-extinct wooly mammoths. Turns out ALL elephants, big and small, developed cancer at about the same rate . . . But why?! 

To find out, scientists compared the different species’ DNA.

Results? Elephants had DUPLICATED tumor suppressor genes! These genes can stop cancer growth and repair cancer-like DNA. With more copies of these cancer fighters, elephants can keep the disease risk in check – despite their huge frames!.

Studying the elephants’ tumor-suppressing superpower could help scientists develop new cancer-prevention methods! 

Looks like future studies won’t be irr-elephant!

Reference: Vazquez, J. M., & Lynch, V. J. (2021). Pervasive duplication of tumor suppressors in Afrotherians during the evolution of large bodies and reduced cancer risk. ELife, 10.