The Secret of the Giants. Scientists explain how whales got so big and why they don't get cancer
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Researchers have discovered four factors that influenced the size of sea giants and protected them from cancer development.
Blue whales are the largest creatures that have ever lived on Earth. These heavyweights of the underwater world can reach a record 33 meters in length and reach a body weight three times the mass of the second largest creatures – herring minke whales or fin whales, writes IFL Science.
In a new study, scientists have focused on understanding what helped blue whales get so big, and it looks like they have found the answer. The new study suggests that four genes, GHSR, IGFBP7, NCAPG and PLAG1, played a key role in the development of giant size. It is curious that they helped blue whales not only achieve huge sizes, but also protected them from an increased risk of developing cancer.
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During the study, a group of scientists from the University at Buffalo (New York, USA), led by Vincent Lynch, studied 9 main genes. The scientists found that 5 of them were directly associated with the growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor axis, and the remaining 4 were associated with the large body size of artiodactyl animals, which, despite living on land, are associated with whales.
Scientists analyzed the role these genes play in 19 species of whales, including 7 giants – whales reaching a length of more than 10 meters:
- sperm whales;
- bowhead whales;
- grey whales;
- humpback whales;
- North Pacific right whales;
- fin whales;
- blue whales.
For two groups of genes, the scientists were able to identify four genes that are directly associated with large sizes. At the same time, two of them, GHSR and IGFBP7, fell into the group of the growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor axis, and two, NCAPG and PLAG1, fell into the group of large artiodactyl animals. Curious is the fact that two of them are associated with the development of cancer in animals.
According to Lynch, sometimes scientists even joke that whales should “be born with cancer and not be able to exist” – this is due to the fact that they are too big. However, despite the fact that whales seem ideally suited to develop cancer, they not only grow to huge sizes, but also live for ages. For example, bowhead whales are among the longest-lived animals on the planet, able to roam the ocean for over 200 years.
Scientists know that age and size are two important risk factors for cancer in animals, but giants seem to seas – nothing. In this study, scientists have figured out how whales manage to avoid cancer – two genes that scientists have identified help them.
It turned out that GHSR and IGFBP7 can reduce the risk of developing the disease in whales. This is due to the fact that the first gene affects the cell cycle, and cancer is just a disease that occurs when cells divide uncontrollably and spread to surrounding tissues, and the second gene, as a number of studies have already proven, is able to suppress several types of cancer.< /p>
Thus, scientists have concluded that these four genes, in fact, allow whales to grow as large as they want, and at the same time avoid the risk of developing cancer.