Show Details

Cancer-Resistant Elephants

August 20, 2018

Researchers discover the genetic basis for elephants’ resistance to cancer.


Elephants are surprisingly resistant to cancer. (Pixabay)

Elephants are surprisingly resistant to cancer. (Pixabay)


Elephants vs. cancer. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Because of the sheer number of cells in their bodies, elephants should develop cancer much more often than they do. Now, scientists have discovered that a  formerly inactive gene helps them resist cancer. University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Vincent Lynch and his colleagues found that elephants and their close relatives have a gene called LIF6. But while the other species are missing the on-switch for the gene, it’s been reactivated in elephants.

VINCENT LYNCH (University of Chicago):

So we call it a zombie gene because it’s a previously dead gene that comes back to life and once it does so, kills the cell.


The researchers write in Cell Reports that the zombie gene destroys any cell that has DNA damage, stopping cancer in its tracks. Understanding how some animals avoid cancer could contribute to the development of cancer-fighting drugs in humans. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard