Elephants have a secret cancer weapon that defies traditional thinking.
Traditional science says the bigger the animal the bigger the risk of getting cancer.
So elephants ought to be walking or swimming masses of cancerous tumours.
But they are not.
In 2012 Vincent Lynch did something out of the ordinary.
And he did it on a whim.
As an assistant professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago he was curious.
He decided to search the genome of the African elephant to see if it had extra anti-cancer genes.
Cancers happen when cells build up mutations in their DNA allowing them to grow and divide uncontrollably.
So bigger animals have more cells and therefore should have a higher risk for cancer.
Elephants Have A Secret Cancer Weapon
And this is true for a lot of species.
On average, tall people are more likely to develop cancer than shorter ones.
And big dogs have a greater cancer risk than small ones.
But that theory does not apply to elephants.
And there is a paradox to all of that.
Elephants are no more susceptible to tumors than Chihuahuas.
And whales are no more likely to develop cancers than humans.
And that’s really strange.
Big animals have a longer life span thus creating more opportunities for their large number of cells to become cancerous.
But that is not happening.
And this puzzling trend is called Peto’s paradox.
It is named after the British epidemiologist Richard Peto, who described it in the 1970s.
Since then, biologists have proposed hundreds of hypotheses to explain it.
Some note that larger animals have lower metabolic rates.
This reduces the rate at which they acquire mutations.
Others have suggested that in big animals, tumors need more time to reach a lethal size; during that time, the tumors likely to grow debilitating secondary tumors of their own.
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And elephants always have held a fascination for people and scientists.
In large part because they mimic a lot of human traits.