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  • Saaliha Bilal

Cancer in the Animal Kingdom


To some, it may be quite surprising that human beings aren’t the only species who have needed to face this deadly disease. Genomic analysis holds the key to understanding these differences, and if we can harness that knowledge, it could help treat cancer in all its forms.

Here are some facts about animals and cancer that you may have not known.


Guardian of the Genome

It may sound like a film series, but Guardian of the Genome, or as it is scientifically known, gene TP53, is a tumor suppressor of which humans have just one copy. However, elephants have 20 copies of this gene and this is the main theory put forward by scientists to explain how elephants are resistant to cancer.


Communicable cancer

For cancer researchers, Tasmanian devils have attracted attention for a facial cancer that’s contagious to others of the same marsupial breed, spread when they bite the face of an infected devil. Some other animals that have cancer that’s contagious within their species are clams, cockles, mussels, etc.


Since the dawn of the dinosaurs

A malignant tumor found in a 240 million-year-old turtle bone shows that cancer has been plaguing living things since the Triassic Period. It has yielded evidence of what might be one of the earliest known cases of cancer ever found.


Sniffing out cancer

Studies have shown some dogs’ varying abilities to sniff out various cancers after getting a waft of a person’s urine, blood, breath, feces, sweat or skin. It was found that dogs trained in detecting Gleason 9 prostate cancer in urine samples correctly identified the disease in 71 percent of the cancer samples and ignored non-positive samples 73 percent of the time.


Peto’s Paradox

Bowhead whales have approximately 3.7 quadrillion cells, which is about thousand times the number an average human does. One might think that with so many cells, each containing a copy of the whale’s genome and being susceptible to genetic typos, cancer might be thousand times more common in them than in humans, but that is the mysterious case of the bowhead whales, as they’re seemingly resistant to it. This species is also considered the longest living mammals.


 

Sources:

https://www.science.org/content/article/doctors-diagnose-advanced-cancer-dinosaur

https://sangerinstitute.blog/2019/04/12/six-shocking-animal-cancer-facts/

https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/10.1139/z99-015#.XJyFpKSnw2w

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2456041

https://www.cancercenter.com/community/blog/2021/08/newsletter-animals-and-cancer

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