Elephants and Cancer

Icons of different organisms


Elephants are the largest land mammals, with huge bodies that are made up of exponentially more cells than smaller organisms – cells that could mutate over their long lifespan. And yet, elephants rarely get cancer. This is thought to be due in part to their extra TP53 tumor suppressor genes, which code for the p53 protein. Through a comparison of elephants, humans, and four other organisms, students learn why elephants’ genetic makeup makes them less susceptible to cancer. Includes a gel electrophoresis lab.


Dean Witter Foundation


Intro Biology, Advanced Biology, AP Biology
4 Lessons
Remote or In Classroom


MiniOne Gel Electrophoresis Kit
Elephants & Cancer Accessory Kit

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Cancer Avoidance Adaptations in Animals

Work in groups to investigate cancer risk and cancer avoidance adaptations in one of four animals: tortoise, manatee, dog, and naked mole rat.

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Finding a Cancer Prevention Gene

Carry out an investigation using gel electrophoresis and bioinformatics to determine the presence/absence and relative quantity of TP53 in multiple animals.

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Modeling p53

Use information regarding the structure and function of the p53 protein to build a 3D model, and specifically demonstrate p53’s DNA binding ability. Navigate the NCBI website to obtain an amino acid map of the four active domains of the p53 protein.

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Summative Assessment: Humans & Cancer

Apply the knowledge and skills learned and practiced during the activities in the previous lessons to a similar-but-different phenomenon: cancer rates in humans.

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