Matthew Speight

Research Interests

Why do whales exist? Given their enormous size and longevity, and expected equivalent probabilities of cancer-associated gene mutation, whales should be disproportionately more prone to cancer than smaller mammals, succumbing to fatal metastasis at a relatively young age. Empirical evidence to date does not support this prediction, and this discrepancy between theory and observation is known as Peto’s paradox. In short; whales, and other large, long-lived mammals exist, and they must have evolved mechanisms to suppress and resist cancer in order to do so. What are those mechanisms?

This is where I come in! Using a combination of quantitative metabolic modelling, genomics and a series of in vitro experiments using transgenic mouse and whale cell lines, my DPhil is attempting to test two main hypotheses: i) the reduced cellular metabolic rate in larger mammals means mutations accumulate, and tumours grow, at a sufficiently protective low rate; and ii) the supernumerary, or otherwise altered copies, of cancer-associated genes found exclusively in the genomes of large mammals manifest themselves functionally in reducing cancer incidence, whether via more efficient DNA repair, higher rates of induced apoptosis or similar.

List of site pages