Scientists might have just found the missing key to properly understanding human skin cancer: a leopard gecko named Mr. Frosty and his 900+ babies. Yes, really. Here's how the mutant lizard is piquing interest within the scientific community.
It all started back in 2015 when reptile breeder Steve Sykes purchased two leopard gecko morphs - dubbed Mr. and Mrs. Frosty - at an auction for $10,000. The enthusiast was simply intrigued by their unusual, "lemon-sorbet" hue and black spots. But fast forward to today, and Sykes isn't the only one mesmerized by these unique creatures.
As Sykes discovered, his latest additions actually belong to a rare breed of "lemon frost" leopard geckos. And upon breeding Mr. Frosty with other female lizards, small, white lumps began to form on many of the offspring. To be specific, roughly 80% of the 900+ colony grew such tumors by the age of 5, as Maria Temming for Science News reported.
How does that tie into the ongoing scientific study of human melanoma? As Longhua Guo, a geneticist at UCLA, soon discovered, a gene linked to human skin cancer was also evident in both the geckos' mysterious hue and growths. Thanks to the help of Mr. Frosty and his clan, Guo and his team might be able to get a better grip on skin cancer and its progression.
“I do think it will have an impact on cancer research, in that we understand the conservedness of this [SPINT1 genetic] pathway a little bit better now,” conservation genomics expert Lara Urban assured of the mutated gene found in both humans and such reptiles. Though there is one thing that still remains a mystery: Why these geckos’ tumors developed at different rates – some alarmingly fast while others over the course of many years. Not to mention, Mr. Frosty himself never developed any.
That's a mystery that will hopefully be solved soon. Sykes has since donated all of his geckos to the "Lemon Frost" research and has put an end to breeding lemon frost leopard geckos as pets. "My goal is to produce beautiful, perfect, healthy geckos," he proudly put it.