Over 500 billion cells in our bodies will be replaced daily, yet natural selection has enabled us to develop defenses against the cellular mutations which could cause cancer. It is this relationship between evolution and the body's fight against cancer which is explored in a new special issue of the Open Access journal Evolutionary Applications.
"Cancer is far from a single well-defined disease which we can identify and eradicate," said Dr Athena Aktipis, Director, Human and Social Evolution, Center for Evolution and Cancer at the University of California, San Francisco. "It is highly diverse and evolutionary theory allows us to consider cancer as a highly complex and evolving ecosystem. This approach can improve the understanding, treatment and prevention of a number of different cancer types."
By applying the principles of evolutionary biology papers in the special issue ask: Why do we get cancer, despite the body's powerful cancer suppression mechanisms? How do evolutionary principles like natural selection, mutation, and genetic drift, work in a cancer ecosystem? How can we use evolutionary theory to minimize the rate of cancers worldwide?
"Nowhere is the diversity of cancer better revealed than the many reasons why we remain vulnerable to it," said Dr Aktipis. "Evolutionary medicine allows us to see explanations for traits that leave organisms vulnerable to disease."
These evolutionary explanations include the role of environmental factors, such as the relationship between tobacco availability and lung cancer; co-evolution with fast evolving pathogens; constraints on what selection can do; trade-offs, such as the capacity for tissue repair vs. risk of cancer; reproductive success at the expense of health; defenses with costs as well as benefits, such as inflammation.
"An evolutionary approach can unite and explain the many avenues of cancer research by allowing us to see cancer as an ecosystem," concluded Dr Aktipis. "Just as a forest depends on the individual characteristics of trees as well as the interactions of each tree with its environment; similarly tumors can be comprised of genetically distinct cells, which depend on both cell-to-cell interactions within the tumor, as well as on the interactions of tumor itself with the body."
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In the article on the discovery of dinosaurs (They’re back, Review, 6 June) you state: “In Sussex, a local doctor uncovered fragmentary remains of what appeared to be two more species of colossal extinct land reptiles.” You grossly underplay the contribution of Lewes-born Gideon Mantell, geologist and palaeontologist, author and diarist, friend to princes and international scholars as well as local doctor. Mantell not only discovered (aided by his wife) the first remains of the iguanodon in 1824 but named it – as it resembled the tooth of an iguana. This was the first known land dinosaur, Mary Anning having identified the first sea-living dinosaur.Mantell went on to put together more pieces of the jigsaw with extra fossil discoveries. In contrast to Richard Owen, whose models form the basis for the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, Mantell stated correctly that iguanodon would have walked on their back legs, using their forearms to fight or gather food. He did, however, attribute the thumb spike to a nose horn though later corrected this assumption. The Natural History Museum has a display on Gideon and his wife Mary’s contribution as well as the large “Mantell-piece” of Iguanodon fossils that he had on show in his museum in Brighton. He sold it, along with many more priceless items, to the British Museum in 1838. Gideon Mantell’s reputation deserves better than your throwaway remark. Debby MatthewsLewes, East Sussex Continue reading...
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