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 IgnoranceRespectful 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.