1. Cancer Biology
  2. Evolutionary Biology
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Pervasive duplication of tumor suppressors in Afrotherians during the evolution of large bodies and reduced cancer risk

  1. Juan M Vazquez
  2. Vincent J Lynch  Is a corresponding author
  1. University of California, Berkeley, United States
  2. University at Buffalo, United States
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2021;10:e65041 doi: 10.7554/eLife.65041


The risk of developing cancer is correlated with body size and lifespan within species. Between species, however, there is no correlation between cancer and either body size or lifespan, indicating that large, long-lived species have evolved enhanced cancer protection mechanisms. Elephants and their relatives (Proboscideans) are a particularly interesting lineage for the exploration of mechanisms underlying the evolution of augmented cancer resistance because they evolved large bodies recently within a clade of smaller bodied species (Afrotherians). Here, we explore the contribution of gene duplication to body size and cancer risk in Afrotherians. Unexpectedly, we found that tumor suppressor duplication was pervasive in Afrotherian genomes, rather than restricted to Proboscideans. Proboscideans, however, have duplicates in unique pathways that may underlie some aspects of their remarkable anti-cancer cell biology. These data suggest that duplication of tumor suppressor genes facilitated the evolution of increased body size by compensating for decreasing intrinsic cancer risk.

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Author details

  1. Juan M Vazquez

    Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  2. Vincent J Lynch

    Department of Biological Sciences, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-5311-3824


University of Chicago

  • Juan M Vazquez
  • Vincent J Lynch

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Antonis Rokas, Vanderbilt University, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: November 19, 2020
  2. Accepted: January 28, 2021
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: January 29, 2021 (version 1)


© 2021, Vazquez & Lynch

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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