Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Blame Our Evolutionary Risk of Cancer on Our Body Mass

A key enzyme that cuts short our cellular lifespan in an effort to thwart cancer has now been linked to body mass.

Until now, scientists believed that our relatively long lifespans controlled the expression of telomerase—an enzyme that can lengthen the lives of cells, but can also increase the rate of cancer.

Vera Gorbunova, assistant professor of biology at the University of Rochester, conducted a first-of-its-kind study to discover why some animals express telomerase while others, like humans, don't. The findings are reported in today's issue of Aging Cell.

"Mice express telomerase in all their cells, which helps them heal dramatically fast," says Gorbunova. "Skin lesions heal much faster in mice, and after surgery a mouse's recovery time is far shorter than a human's. It would be nice to have that healing power, but the flip side of it is runaway cell reproduction—cancer."

... more about:
»Expression »Gorbunova »Telomerase »don' »lifespan

Up until now, scientists assumed that mice could afford to express telomerase, and thereby benefit from its curative powers, because their natural risk of developing cancer is low—they simply die before there's much likelihood of one of their cells becoming cancerous.

"Most people don't know that if you put mice in a cage so the cat can't eat them, 90 percent of them will die of cancer," says Gorbunova.

Evolution, it seems, has determined which species are allowed to express telomerase in their somatic cells in order to maintain a delicate balance between cells that live long, and cells that become cancerous. But while most scientists believed an organism's lifespan determined whether it was at a higher risk of cancer, Gorbunova has revealed evidence that it is not our long lifespan that puts us at risk, but our much-heavier-than-a-mouse body mass.

The tips of chromosomes, called telomeres, shorten every time a cell divides. After about 60 divisions, the telomeres are eroded away to the point that the cell stops dividing. Telomerase rebuilds those tips, so animals that express it, like mice, have cells that can reproduce more extensively and thus heal better.

Cancer cells, however, are those cells that constantly reproduce unchecked, and so evolution has shut off the expression of telomerase in human somatic cells, presumably because the threat of cancer outweighs the benefits of quick-healing.

But no one has looked into why mice express telomerase and humans don't. In fact, telomerase activity has been barely catalogued in the animal kingdom.

Gorbunova decided to take on the question by creating a unique test. She investigated 15 rodents from across the globe to determine what level of telomerase activity each species expressed, to see if there were some correlation she could find.

The species ranged from tiny field mice to the 100-pound capybara from Brazil. Lifespans ranged from three years for the mice, to 23 or more for common backyard squirrels.

Acquiring specimens of these animals from around the world proved to be an unusual task.

"At one point I was woken up at two in the morning by a guy on a cell phone hunting pest beavers in Montezuma," says Gorbunova. "I'm still trying to wake up and this voice says, 'I hear you're looking for beavers.' "

For over a year, Gorbunova collected deceased rodents from around the world and had them shipped to her lab in chilled containers. She analyzed their tissues to determine if the telomerase was fully active in them, as it was in mice, or suppressed, as it is in humans. Rodents are close to each other on the evolutionary tree and so if there were a pattern to the telomerase expression, she should be able to spot it there.

To her surprise, she found no correlation between telomerase and longevity. The great monkey wrench in that theory was the common gray squirrel, which lives an amazing two decades, yet also expresses telomerase in great quantity. Evolution clearly didn't see long life in a squirrel to be an increased risk for cancer.

Body mass, however, showed a clear correlation across the 15 species. The capybara, nearly the size of a grown human, was not expressing telomerase, suggesting evolution was willing to forgo the benefits in order to reign in cancer.

The results cannot be directly related to humans, but Gorbunova set up the study to produce very strong across-the-board indicators. It's clear that evolution has found that the length of time an organism is alive has little effect on how likely some of its cells might mutate into cancer. Instead, simply having more cells in your body does raise the specter of cancer—and does so enough that the benefits of telomerase expression, such as fast healing, weren't worth the cancer risk.

Gorbunova points out that these findings raise another, perhaps far more important question: What, then, does this mean for animals that are far larger than humans? If a 160-pound human must give up telomerase to thwart cancer, then what does a 250,000-pound whale have to do to keep its risk of cancer at bay?

"It may be that whales have a cancer suppressant that we've never considered," says Gorbunova. "I'd like to find out what kind of telomerase expression they have, and find out what else they use to combat cancer."

As for the tiny mice: "They don't have to worry about cancer," she says. "They're probably all praying for an anti-cat gene."

Jonathan Sherwood | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Expression Gorbunova Telomerase don' lifespan

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Generation of a Stable Biradical
22.03.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht Make way for the mini flying machines
21.03.2018 | American Chemical Society

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

TRAPPIST-1 planets provide clues to the nature of habitable worlds

21.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

The search for dark matter widens

21.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Natural enemies reduce pesticide use

21.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>