A Zombie Gene Protects Elephants From Cancer

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A Zombie Gene Protects Elephants From Cancer

Viviane Callier


Quote:...“Refunctionalizing a pseudogene is not something that happens every day,” explained Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University, in an email to Quanta. Being able to show that it happened at roughly the same time that elephants evolved a large body, he wrote, “supports, but does not prove, that the refunctionalizing of the gene was a precondition for the evolution of large body size.”

Evolving protections against cancer would seem to be in the interest of all animals, so why don’t they all have a refunctionalized LIF6 gene? According to the researchers, it’s because this protection comes with risks. LIF6 suppresses cancer, but extra copies of LIF6 would kill the cell if they accidentally turned on. “There’s a bunch of toxic pseudogenes sitting there” in the genome, Lynch explained in an email. “If they get inappropriately expressed, it’s basically game over.”

There also appears to be a trade-off between cancer suppression mechanisms and fertility. A study published in 2009 suggested that LIF is critical for implantation of the embryo in the uterus. Because LIF activity is controlled by p53, LIF and p53 jointly regulate the efficiency of reproduction. When the same set of genes has two functions (such as reproduction and cancer suppression), it is possible that those functions will be in direct conflict — a phenomenon that geneticists call antagonistic pleiotropy.

The elephants may have solved the problem of antagonistic pleiotropy by duplicating p53 and LIF and splitting up those functions, according to Maley...
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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  • Brian
As stated, there is often a trade-off in these situations.  For example, tryptophan suppression has been shown to significantly slow down the ageing process in rats, but tryptophan is a precursor of the neurotransmitter seratonin, which is important for healthy brain function.
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  • Sciborg_S_Patel

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