It seems logical at first. The longer an animal lives, the more chances it has of developing cancer. However, this is not the case with whales.
The large cetaceans experience lower rates of cancer than many animals including humans. Now, in a new study, researchers have sought to understand why this is happening.
The researchers refused to just chalk it up to good genes and decided to investigate further. What they found is actually quite interesting.
They speculated that since whales live for so long they are exposed to numerous pathogens. They thus evolve genes enhanced to protect against these diseases such as DNA repair mechanisms and other biological processes.
The team then decided to examine how whale genes duplicate. They used DNA sequencing to create a genetic map of whales' tumor suppressor genes and those of 15 other mammal species.
They then compared them all. What they found were 71 tumor suppressor genes that were duplicated in the whales studied. They also discovered CXCR2, a gene believed to regulate immune function, the spread of tumors, and DNA damage.
The discovery is significant because now future researchers can use the findings to create tumor-suppressing genes in smaller animals such as humans. The researchers are already looking into this type of study.
"It would be interesting to investigate the effect of those conserved TSGs variants identified in whales in human cells. Such an avenue of investigation could eventually lead to an understanding of novel pathways that serve to improve the cellular mechanisms protecting against DNA damage, cancer, and aging," wrote the scientists.
We are still a long way from understanding how these results could actually help humans, and perhaps other animals, in their fight against cancer. However, it is good to know we have one more avenue to explore for a potential cure.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.