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Researchers study potential cancer suppression in cetaceans
Researchers sequenced and assembled the genome of a humpback whale.
Findings could help find new treatments for human cancers 

A study of potential cancer suppression in cetaceans could help researchers discover new targets for preventing cancer in humans.

The research, published in Molecular Biology and Evolution, pulled apart the genome of a humpback whale, along with nine other cetaceans, to reveal how their cancer defences are so effective.

Study leader Professor Marc Tollis from Northern Arizona University said the study found ‘nature has beaten cancer in countless ways across the tree of life’.

He added that scientists can use the information to help find new treatments for human cancers. For example, using the whale version of a protein that can prevent cell growth to develop drugs that shrink tumours in humans.

“Our goal is not only to get nature to inform us about better cancer therapies but to give the public a new perspective of cancer,” Tollis said. “The fact that whales and elephants evolved to beat cancer, and that dinosaurs suffered from it as well, suggests that cancer has been a selective pressure across many millions of years of evolution, and it has always been with us.

“Our hope is that this may change people’s relationship with the disease, which can be painful and personal. It also helps provide even better appreciation for biodiversity. In our current sixth mass extinction, we need all the reasons for conservation that we can get.”

In the study, researchers sequenced and assembled the genome of a humpback whale and compared it to other mammals. These included the blue whale, fin whale, bowhead whale and sperm whale.

They found that some parts of the whale genome contained genes that control the cell cycle, cell proliferation and DNA repair, which are essential for normal cell function. Many of these genes are mutated in human cancers. They also found that the whale genome also evolved many duplications in tumour suppressor genes.

Co-author Carlo Maley from Arizona State University said: “Nature is showing us that these changes to cancer genes are compatible with life. The next questions are, which of these changes is preventing cancer, and can we translate those discoveries into preventing cancer in humans?”

Tollis added: “This suggests that whales are unique among mammals in that in order to evolve their gigantic sizes, these important ‘housekeeping’ genes, that are evolutionarily conserved and normally prevent cancer, had to keep up in order to maintain the species’ fitness.

“We also found that despite these cancer-related parts of whale genomes evolving faster than other mammals, on average whales have accumulated far fewer DNA mutations in their genomes over time compared to other mammals, which suggests they have slower mutation rates.”

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Endangered turtles rescued from smugglers

News Story 1
 A group of endangered turtles have found a new home at London Zoo after being rescued from smugglers.

The four big-headed turtles arrived at the zoo at the end of last year, after smugglers tried to illegally import them to Canada, labelled as toys.

One of the turtles, named Lady Triệu after a Vietnamese warrioress, has moved to a new exhibit in the zoo’s reptile house. She is the only one of her kind in a UK zoo.

Big-headed turtles have such large heads that they cannot pull them back into their shells. To compensate, they have armour plating from head to tail and a very sharp beak to fend off predators. They are ranked number 18 on ZSL’s EDGE of Existence reptile list, which puts threatened species at the forefront of conservation action. Image © ZSL  

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RCVS Fellowship board chair elections get underway

Voting for the 2019 RCVS Fellowship Chair election is now underway. This year four candidates are standing for election, including Dr Robert Huey, Professor John Innes, Professor Liz Mossop and Professor Ian Ramsey.

The Chair will attend and preside over Fellowship meetings and take the lead in consolidating the Fellowship’s position as the learned society of the RCVS. Fellows will receive an email containing a link to the online voting form, as well as candidates’ details and manifestos. Voting closes at 5pm on Thursday, 5 September.