Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Cancer-Fighting Zombies

A so-called "zombie" gene may protect elephants from developing cancer, the New York Times reports.

With their size, it would be expected that elephants would be prone to developing cancer, as each cell division provides an opportunity for a mutation to crop up, but the Times notes that studies have suggested that elephants have the same or even lower cancer rates as smaller creatures.

Researchers from the University of Chicago looked into this apparent paradox to find that elephants have refunctionalized a leukemia inhibitory factor pseudogene, LIF6, as they write in Cell Reports. The team scanned the genomes of paenungulates, which include elephants, hyraxes, and manatees, to find they have duplicate LIF pseudogenes. And, in elephants, LIF6 is expressed, the researchers found.

In particular, they report that LIF6 is upregulated by p53 in response to DNA damage — and elephants also have extra copies of p53. LIF6 encodes a protein that then, when overexpressed, induces apoptosis, the researchers add.

This, Chicago's Vincent Lynch, the senior author on the paper, tells the Times, could help scientists better understand cancer. "It might tell us something fundamental about cancer as a process. And if we're lucky, it might tell us something about how to treat human disease," Lynch adds.