I’ve always been fascinated by elephants. As a young child I had a lot of exposure to the majestic creatures. My family lived in India and at the time they were everywhere. I can even remember on a couple occasions seeing one walking down the streets of New Delhi. It is not hard to sense their intelligence when you look one in the eye. All you have to do is search for elephant videos on YouTube to see clip after clip of them doing extraordinary things to save one of their herd from danger. Now it looks like they might hold the key to saving humanity from danger.
Cancer is a horrible disease and it ravages humanity. Did you know elephants get cancer too? So does pretty much every animal on the planet. As a matter of fact, the only animal on the planet known to be cancer-free is the naked mole rat. Naked mole rats inhibit cell growth when too many get clustered together. Cancer is a lot of cells clustered together. Put the two together (or not, in this case) and you have an animal that doesn’t get cancer. The thing is about naked mole rats is that they aren’t cute. Baby elephants are cute. Baby elephants are also about only 20% as likely to die of cancer as people are. Scientists have recently uncovered the reason why. Evidently there is the gene called TP53 which inhibits cancer growth through creation of a specific protein. Elephants have 20 copies of this gene. Humans get two: one from each parent. This gene seems to be a cell killer. Specifically, it attacks damaged cells and causes them to destroy themselves. It does this to cancerous cells. It’s not hard to see that this discovery holds a clue to curing cancer.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the extinction rate of animals is higher than it has been since the loss of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Literally dozens of plants and animals go extinct every day with 99% of them being caused by human activity. The next time you get into a conversation with someone who says “who cares if some animals go extinct? Only the strong survive,” remind them that one of those animals may hold the cure to something that takes one of their loved ones from them. How many things like this have we lost due to extinction? Elephants may have just given us one of those to us. And they’re cute too–
Elephant pics courtesy of ForWallpapers and The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.