Scientists studying bowhead
whales, massive marine mammals found near the northern tip of Alaska, have made
an incredible discovery. Tissue samples collected from these magnificent
creatures have revealed a remarkable superpower: their cells possess an
exceptional ability to repair damaged DNA.
This finding, published on May 8
in bioRxiv.org, sheds light on the whales' potential mechanism for avoiding
cancer-causing genetic mutations. The research introduces a fresh perspective
on cancer resistance, highlighting the unique strategies employed by these
The bowhead whales, known for
their impressive longevity, can live for over 200 years, making themselves
Bowhead whales possess an
extraordinary skill that allows their cells to repair damaged DNA efficiently.
This remarkable ability may help them avert cancer-causing genetic glitches,
according to Orsolya Vincze, an evolutionary ecologist from the French National
Center for Scientific Research in Paris.
While scientists have previously
explored various biological strategies used by animals to avoid cancer, this
study reveals a novel approach employed by bowhead whales.
The bowhead whale, scientifically
known as Balaena mysticetus, is among
the largest mammals on Earth, measuring approximately 18 meters in length and
weighing more than 80,000 kilograms—equivalent to six fully loaded school
With such massive body mass comes
an extensive number of cells, each with the potential for dangerous mutations
Peto's Paradox and Cancer
The resistance to cancer exhibited
by large-bodied animals has long puzzled researchers—a phenomenon known as
Peto's paradox. This paradox suggests that these animals possess robust cancer
Lisa Abegglen, a cell biologist
from the University of Utah Health, explains that elephants, which have a
similar lifespan to humans and rarely succumb to cancer, have extra copies of a
tumor-blocking gene called TP53.
Other studies have indicated that
elephants may clear out damaged cells through this gene and another,
effectively dealing with DNA damage.
The bowhead whale's genome studied
nearly a decade ago, hinted at an alternate strategy for DNA repair. However,
concrete experiments were necessary to validate these predictions.
Vera Gorbunova and her colleagues
at the University of Rochester in New York conducted a series of experiments on
cells obtained from bowhead whale tissue, as well as cells from humans, cows,
The researchers discovered that
bowhead whale cells demonstrated efficient and accurate repair of double-strand
breaks in DNA, a type of damage that severs both strands of the DNA double
helix. The repair process in whale cells was superior to that observed in other
mammals, with repaired DNA returning to a pristine state more frequently.
The team identified two proteins, CIRBP and RPA2, present in bowhead whale cells that contribute to the DNA repair process.
for Cancer Treatment:
The discovery of how animals
defend against cancer is an exciting development, as these strategies have the
potential to be translated into effective treatments for humans with cancer,
says Lisa Abegglen.
Although the application of these
findings in human medicine may be a long way off, the study underscores the
significance of studying animals with low cancer rates.
Abegglen further suggests the need
to investigate whether humpback whales and dolphins possess similar defense
mechanisms or employ different strategies.
These findings emphasize the vast
amount we can learn from animals with large bodies and long lifespans. Orsolya
Vincze believes that the solution to cancer treatment may already exist in
nature; we just need to find it.
The study of these majestic
creatures offers tremendous potential for unlocking the secrets of longevity
and cancer prevention, leading us closer to breakthroughs in cancer medicine.
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