This is an interesting advantage to analyze. These animals have a unique variant of the p53 protein. It increases sensitivity and responsiveness against carcinogenic conditions. Elephants respond better to cancer. How could this help us?
The study was published in ‘Molecular Biology and Evolution’. It is led by Konstantinos Karakostis and Maria Zambrano. They work at the Institute of Biotechnology and Biomedicine of the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Cells replicate routinely, to replace old ones. And each new cell contains new copies of the DNA. Sometimes mutations occur if proteins replicate and transcribe DNA by mistake.
The risk of tumors resulting from the accumulation of these mutations increases with age. But elephants seem to buck this trend. Cancer mortality in elephants is estimated to be less than 5%. In humans it is estimated to be as high as 25%.
how do scientists explain elephants’ high resistance to cancer? They believe it is because of their 20 copies of the p53 gene. They call it the “guardian of the genome,” compared to the single p53 gene found in other mammals.
That protein is key in regulating DNA repair mechanisms. It suppresses uncontrolled cell growth. It is activated when DNA is damaged. In replicated cells with undamaged DNA, it becomes unnecessary. And it is inactivated by another protein, MDM2 E3.
Focus on humans
In the molecular structure of elephants, the key protein escapes the inactivation process. “This is an exciting breakthrough. In humans, that protein influences whether cells should stop proliferating or not. How it makes this decision is difficult to elucidate. Studying elephants gives us a new approach,” the authors explain.
Elephants clearly respond better to cancer. Understanding how and why it is provides an important perspective. It may influence future targeted drug therapies in humans.