Sunday, 16 February 2014

Has Cancer Been Completely Misunderstood?

Instead of viewing the hallmark trait of cancer, namely, incessant proliferation, as a newly evolved trait spurned by random mutations, it would be considered the default state of the cell, having been developed a billion years ago when 'not dying' would be the first priority.  Remember, this ancestral assemblage of cells would not have had the differentiation of cell type and specialization of tissue associated with higher animals, i.e. skin, hair, claws, etc., with which to protect themselves against the environment.

Damage to the skin in animals, for instance, results in the rapid death and sloughing off these 'extra' cells, to be replaced by new healthy ones.  A still barely multicellular entity would not have this luxury, and would entrench itself within genetic traits associated with resilience, the ability to resist all manner of environmental assault, and would express a highly 'selfish' form of behavior we now consider a fundamental property of cancer.

If cancer is an ancient survival program unmasked, this does not mean that the "Mutation Theory" does not still hold some truth. Genetic damage and mutations do in fact contribute to cancer, but rather than view them as 'causing' the complex set of behaviors associated with cancer, they unmask an already existent set of genetic programs [atavism].* For instance, there are over 100 oncogenes known to exist within our DNA and are shared by a vast array of different species including the fruit fly, indicating how ancient (at least 600 million years old) and universal they are (found in most multicellular organisms).

Numerous studies confirm that dinosaurs had tumors. These cancer-promoting genes are normally suppressed by more recently evolved genes (Metazoa 2.0), such as tumor-suppressor genes, but when enough damage to the more recently evolved genetic overlay occurs, the system goes into "Safe Mode" and the older genetic pathways (Metazoa 1.0) are activated once more

[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, February 16th, 2014.]

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