Cancer: An Evolutionary Disease

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Cancer, many biologists argue, is an evolutionary disease. It is a burden of being multicellular, and a threat against which natural selection has only managed mediocre defenses. Making matters worse, cancer cells can borrow highly evolved genes for their own deadly purposes. And even within a single tumor, cancer cells get nastier through natural selection.

I’ve been following the study of evolution and cancer for some time now, and have blogged on the Loom about it here, here, and here. But it was a review in Trends in Ecology and Evolution that spurred me to launch a full-blown article. The articles appears in the January issue of Scientific American, and you can read it here.

Scientific American also runs a podcast each week, and you can listen to an interview with me about the article here.

It’s a fast-moving field now–another big review appeared in Nature Reviews Cancer after my article was off at the printer. As I write in the article, we’re at an early stage right now, when evolutionary biologists and cancer biologists eye each other warily, unsure that the other side understands the nuances of their own field. So I’m eager to see where things are going to go.