Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Deer antlers are a 'controlled' form of bone cancer growth

Future cancer research may come from studying antler growth.

Photo credit: Markus Bürkle from Pexels
  • Antlers in ruminants (deer, moose, elk and reindeer) can grow up to half a meter in one month.
  • Researchers studying their genomes have found how they do it.
  • Genes that both activate and turn off cancer are important to this process.

Antlers are one of the most fascinating adaptations across a wide variation of related species. As striking secondary sexual characteristics, these bony protrusions evolved to help horned animals find a mate. The genes responsible for promoting this rapid growth are even more interesting, as new research suggests.

While sequencing the genomes of some 44 ruminants — among them cows, giraffes, and other mammals that have chambered stomachs for plant digestion — Chinese scientists closely studied those that sprouted antlers, horns, and other bony protrusions. In doing so, they discovered that all the genes that were related to the growth process were oncogenes — genes related to cancer.

These genes were responsible for accelerating cell creation and forming tumors in the bone and skin. What's more, alongside the ability to prolong cancer cell life, the genes also seem to be able to suppress or stop the growth entirely.

Research findings

Geneticist Qiang Qiu and his team, from the Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an, China started their research by mapping out the genes active in 16 live tissue samples from goats, sheep, and deer. Qiu and the research team found that genes responsible for bone formation and embryonic tissue development in the neural crest likely spearheaded the development of bony headgear for ruminants.

Furthermore they found — the study was published in Science on June 21 — that while the same mutation responsible for bone formation appeared across various types of deer, not all of them displayed them. For instance, in contrast to regular deer, two separate species of musk and Chinese water deer entirely lack antlers. Regular deer, the researchers found, possessed eight active genes that jumpstarted tumor formation and growth.

From these findings, Qui states that antler growth is more akin to bone cancer than regular bones. However, in the case of antler growth contrasted to bone cancer, tumors, in this exceptional case, do not grow unchecked but are part of the animal's highly regulated system of genes, which both suppress and inhibit tumor growth.

Edward D. Davis, an evolutionary paleobiologist at the University of Oregon, states that, "Deer antlers are essentially a controlled form of bone cancer growth." Although he wasn't part of the study, he found the results to be surprising. As tumor-promoting genes are expected in something like antler growth, the involvement of cancer-controlling genes is a surprising find.

But the surprises didn't stop there. Qiu says that the cancer-suppressing genes also protect against the disease in general. Documented cancer rates in deer are five times less than other mammals. Wang Wen, the study's lead author remarked about the amazing ability of deer to regrow antlers.

"Deer can completely regenerate an organ. No other mammal has that ability."

Antlers grow up to one inch per day. Wang's team found nine genes involved with this antler cell growth. There was an additional 19 genes that act as tumor suppressors.

The two different sets of genes work together to build thriving antler cells without developing into cancer on other parts of the body. Implications from this study could be substantial for future cancer research.

Using cancer mechanics for treatment

Professor Yunzhi Peter Yang from Stanford University and Dai Fei Elmer Ker from University of Hong Kong's Institute for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine, said that the discovery could help scientists regrow damaged or missing organs, as well as develop new drugs to fight cancer.

"Studies of deer antlers offer attractive approaches for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. For instance, deer antlers have inspired a commercially promising prosthesis for amputees."

This is just the beginning, as the animal's ability to grow "innervated bone with low tumour and infection incidence," could help remedy skeletal defects and affect other bone growth issues.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Keep reading Show less

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

Keep reading Show less

Unhappy at work? How to find meaning and maintain your mental health

Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.

Unhappy at work? How to find meaning and maintain your mental health
Videos
  • When most of your life is spent doing one thing, it matters if that thing is unfulfilling or if it makes you unhappy. According to research, most people are not thrilled with their jobs. However, there are ways to find purpose in your work and to reduce the negative impact that the daily grind has on your mental health.
  • "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable says, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. In this video, he and other big thinkers consider what it means to find meaning in your work, discuss the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and share strategies for reassessing your relationship to your job.
  • Author James Citrin offers a career triangle model that sees work as a balance of three forces: job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle. While it is possible to have all three, Citrin says that they are not always possible at the same time, especially not early on in your career.

The Anthropause is here: COVID-19 reduced Earth's vibrations by 50 percent

The planet is making a lot less noise during lockdown.

A house is collapsed after a 6.4 earthquake hit just south of the island on January 7, 2020 in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico.

Photo by Eric Rojas/Getty Images
Coronavirus
  • A team of researchers found that Earth's vibrations were down 50 percent between March and May.
  • This is the quietest period of human-generated seismic noise in recorded history.
  • The researchers believe this helps distinguish between natural vibrations and human-created vibrations.
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

Dinosaurs suffered from cancer, study confirms

A recent analysis of a 76-million-year-old Centrosaurus apertus fibula confirmed that dinosaurs suffered from cancer, too.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast