Cancer and Evolution–The Beat Goes On

In January, Scientific American ran an article by me about the evolutionary roots of cancer, which you can read here (and about which I blogged here). Now, via Respectful Ignorance Respectful Insolence [d’oh!], I’ve discovered a new review on said subject in the March issue of the journal Nature Reviews Cancer. The review, “Darwinian medicine: a case for cancer,” is by Mel Greaves, of the Institute of Cancer Research in London. If you can get hold of the paper, it’s definitely worth a read. Greaves covers a lot of ground, including some facets of the cancer-evolution story I didn’t have room for in my article, such as how the mismatch between our biology and our modern life may foster some kinds of cancer. (If you can’t get hold of the paper, you might want to look at Greaves’s 2002 book, Cancer: The Evolutionary Legacy.) The one thing that I noticed missing from the review was genomic conflict. Some important cancer genes appear to have rapidly evolved because they help sperm reproduce faster or allow fetuses to manipulate their mothers. It appears that these genes also make tumors more sucessful. Otherwise, cool stuff.

0 thoughts on “Cancer and Evolution–The Beat Goes On

  1. There was a recent interesting study by
    Beilas et al, PNAS 2006 November ‘Human Cancers express a mutator phenotype’ showing a huge increase in the mutation rate within cancer cells. That is to be expected of course, but this study gave precise figures to it and also showed it was related to cancer stage – the mutation rate increasing in later stages.
    Cancer cells as a whole were found to have about 1000 random mutations per cell, indicating that the average tumor mass in total may have 10×12 mutations, the sort of figures needed to generate the multi-step level cancers (with oncogene activation and tumor suppressor loss) that we do indeed find in the clinic.
    Its a critical line of thinking and is very helpful in both planning new anti cancer strategies and in explaining why therapies such as anti angiogenic treatments frequently fail – they are usually applied at the stage where the tumor, due to the numbers of mutations picked up, is very heterogenous, giving a lot of opportunity for resistant clones to emerge.

  2. Cool stuff, indeed. Cancer evolution is something that I’ve been reading about recently.

    Although a rather lengthy read, I recommend taking a look at Crespi & Summers (2006) Positive selection in the evolution of cancer. Biol. Rev. Camb. Philos. Soc. 81: 407-424.

    Also, there’s an interesting observation relating to that spermatogenesis theory in Nielsen et al. (2005) A Scan for Positively Selected Genes in the Genomes of Humans and Chimpanzees. PLoS Biol. 3: e170.

  3. You mean “Insolence”…. LOL!

    As I sit here in the Detroit airport my flight delayed until quite late, meaning that I won’t be home until probably after 1 or 2 AM, killing time using the WiFi, I see this little dis, and I get…amused at this little Freudian slip

    Even so, I tell ya, I don’t get no respect, no respect at all!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *