The Borneo Post (Sabah)
Whales’ cancer resistance ‘written in their genes’
PARIS: Whales, dolphins and porpoises have two properties that should not in theory go together – they have a long lifespan for mammals and they tend to be resistant to cancer.
A new study suggests that the reason is written in their genes.
In general, when a creature has more cells in its body, they are expected to be more vulnerable to random mutations that can develop into cancer.
“Given this, we would expect that large and long-lived species, such as whales, have a higher rate of cancer than in small species,” said lead author Daniela Tejada-Martinez at the Austral University of Chile.
So how to explain the longevity of the bowhead whale, which can reach 60 feet in length, weigh up to around 200,000 pounds (nearly 100 tonnes) and live for more than 200 years?
“The way in which the different species throughout their evolutionary history managed to fight cancer remains a mystery,” Tejada-Martinez told AFP.
This is known as Peto’s paradox, when some species do not have an incidence of cancer that correlates with their cell count.
To investigate this, researchers tracked the evolution of 1,077 tumour suppressor genes.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found signs of positive genetic selection in key regulators of DNA-damage and the immune system.