Elephants Rarely Get Cancer, The Woolly Mammoth and a Cure for Cancer Have in Common
What do global warming, the wooly mammoth, and a cure for cancer have in common? No, it’s not the beginning of a bad joke but a very real possibility. Remember the Jurassic Park movies where scientists genetically engineered and recreated live dinosaurs? Today, scientists are doing exactly that to bring back the wooly mammoth, not for theme park profits, but to save the planet and perhaps find a cure for cancer.
Global warming is changing our planet. One effect is that the frozen tundra permafrost is reaching temperatures high enough to melt, creating twice the normal carbon levels and releasing flammable methane gas. Due to warmer temperatures there is also an overgrowth of plant life, particularly taller shrub and forests which increase warming because they prevent snow from reflecting heat back into the atmosphere. Neither scenario is good for the environment or humans.
There is good news however. As the ice melts the bodies of frozen prehistoric animals are being found. The recovered genetic material is being used to potentially regenerate animals such as the woolly mammoth, a cousin to the elephant.
South Korean Professor Hwang Woo-Suk, a controversial expert in cloning, is using the genetic material from the blood, bones and soft tissue of the mammoths which have been found buried in the Siberian permafrost to attempt to recreate these gentle giants. Professor Hwang was dismissed by Seoul National University in 2006 for faking groundbreaking work in stem cell research. However, if he’s successful I would say he would more than redeem himself.
Scientists believe if they are successful in their endeavors to genetically engineer this hairy creature using our current day elephant as a surrogate they may create animals which could live in the cold temperatures of the Arctic. Research has confirmed that mammoths ate a plant based diet. The researchers maintain their presence in the Siberian arctic would begin to decrease the plant overgrowth and in theory would begin to correct increasing temperatures thereby saving this incredibly unstable ecosystem.
Researchers also believe there is another advantage. Elephants rarely get cancer so researchers are looking into why. It appears elephants, and perhaps the woolly mammoth, have a built in defense, a protein which is specific to cancer. This tumor-suppressing protein called p53 appears about 40 times throughout their DNA while in humans there are only two markers.
If scientists can figure out how to duplicate this tumor crushing protein they may be able to eventually cure cancer or prevent anyone from getting the disease.