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Deer antlers are a 'controlled' form of bone cancer growth
Future cancer research may come from studying antler growth.
- 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.
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.
A new study finds that dogs fed fresh human-grade food don't need to eat—or do their business—as much.
- Most dogs eat a diet that's primarily kibble.
- When fed a fresh-food diet, however, they don't need to consume as much.
- Dogs on fresh-food diets have healthier gut biomes.
Four diets were tested<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjY0NjIxMn0._w0k-qFOC86AqmtPHJBK_i-9F5oVyVYsYtUrdvfUxWQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1b1e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87937436a81c700a8ab3b1d763354843" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: AntonioDiaz/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tested refrigerated and fresh human-grade foods against kibble, the food most dogs live on. The <a href="https://frontierpets.com.au/blogs/news/how-kibble-or-dry-dog-food-is-made" target="_blank">ingredients</a> of kibble are mashed into a dough and then extruded, forced through a die of some kind into the desired shape — think a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_extrusion" target="_blank">pasta maker</a>. The resulting pellets are sprayed with additional flavor and color.</p><p>For four weeks, researchers fed 12 beagles one of four diets:</p><ol><li>a extruded diet — Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe</li><li>a fresh refrigerated diet — Freshpet Roasted Meals Tender Chicken Recipe</li><li>a fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Beef & Russet Potato Recipe</li><li>another fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Chicken & White Rice Recipe.</li></ol><p>The two fresh diets contained minimally processed beef, chicken, broccoli, rice, carrots, and various food chunks in a canine casserole of sorts. </p><p>(One can't help but think how hard it would be to get finicky cats to test new diets. As if.)</p><p>Senior author <a href="https://ansc.illinois.edu/directory/ksswanso" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Kelly S. Swanson</a> of U of I's Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, was a bit surprised at how much better dogs did on people food than even refrigerated dog chow. "Based on past research we've conducted I'm not surprised with the results when feeding human-grade compared to an extruded dry diet," he <a href="https://aces.illinois.edu/news/feed-fido-fresh-human-grade-dog-food-scoop-less-poop" target="_blank">says</a>, adding, "However, I did not expect to see how well the human-grade fresh food performed, even compared to a fresh commercial processed brand."</p>
Tracking the effect of each diet<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NjY1NTgyOX0.AdyMb8OEcjCD6iWYnXjToDmcnjfTSn-0-dfG96SIpUA/img.jpg?width=980" id="da892" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="880d952420679aeccd1eaf32b5339810" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: Patryk Kosmider/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tracked the dogs' weights and analyzed the microbiota in their fecal matter.</p><p>It turned out that the dogs on kibble had to eat more to maintain their body weight. This resulted in their producing 1.5 to 2.9 times the amount of poop produced by dogs on the fresh diets.</p><p>Says Swanson, "This is consistent with a 2019 National Institute of Health study in humans that found people eating a fresh whole food diet consumed on average 500 less calories per day, and reported being more satisfied, than people eating a more processed diet."</p><p>Maybe even more interesting was the effect of fresh food on the gut biome. Though there remains much we don't yet know about microbiota, it was nonetheless the case that the microbial communities found in fresh-food poo was different.</p><p>"Because a healthy gut means a healthy mutt," says Swanson, "fecal microbial and metabolite profiles are important readouts of diet assessment. As we have shown in <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jas/article/92/9/3781/4702209#110855647" target="_blank">previous studies</a>, the fecal microbial communities of healthy dogs fed fresh diets were different than those fed kibble. These unique microbial profiles were likely due to differences in diet processing, ingredient source, and the concentration and type of dietary fibers, proteins, and fats that are known to influence what is digested by the dog and what reaches the colon for fermentation."</p>
How did kibble take over canine diets?<p>Historically, dogs ate scraps left over by humans. It has only been <a href="https://www.thefarmersdog.com/digest/the-history-of-commercial-pet-food-a-great-american-marketing-story/" target="_blank">since 1870</a>, with the arrival of the luxe Spratt's Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes—made from "the dried unsalted gelatinous parts of Prairie Beef", mmm—that commercial dog food began to take hold. Dog bone-shaped biscuits first appeared in 1907. Ken-L Ration dates from 1922. Kibble was first extruded in 1956. Pet food had become a great way to turn <a href="https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/choosing-dog-food/animal-by-products/" target="_blank">human-food waste</a> into profit.</p><p>Commercial dog food became the norm for most household canines only after a massive marketing campaign led by a group of dog-food industry lobbyists called the Pet Food Institute in 1964. Over time, for most households, dog food was what dogs ate — what else? Human food? These days more than half of U.S. dogs are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/magazine/who-made-that-dog-biscuit.html" target="_blank">overweight or obese</a>, and certainly their diet is a factor.<span></span></p><p>We're not so special among animals after all. If something's healthy for us to eat—we're <em>not</em> looking at you, chocolate—maybe we should remember to share with our canine compatriots. Not from the table, though.</p>
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.
Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.
- A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
- The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
- Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.