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Biotech Medicine Science

Cancer Resembles Life 1 Billion Years Ago 223

An anonymous reader writes "What is cancer? It's not an invader; it's spawned from our own bodies. And it bears striking resemblance to early multicellular life from 1 billion years ago. This has led astrobiologists and cosmologists Paul Davies and Charlie Lineweaver to suggest that cancer is driven by primitive genes that govern cellular cooperation (abstract), and which kick in when our more recently evolved genes that keep them in check break down. So, far from being rogue cells that mutate out of control, cancers are actually cells that revert to a more ancient level of programming, like booting in Safe Mode. The good news is this means cancers have only finite variation. Once we figure out the ancient genes, we'll know how it works. It's unlikely to evolve any new defense mechanisms, meaning curing cancer might be not quite as mammoth a task as commonly thought."
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Cancer Resembles Life 1 Billion Years Ago

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  • Yeah Right. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Massacrifice ( 249974 ) on Friday February 11, 2011 @10:44AM (#35173932)

    Astrobiologists doing cancer "research"? Half of the submission is written as if they had cancer already nailed down, while the rest of it implies that they merely had this great idea, while looking at the stars after smoking some of the good stuff. If there are no experiments, hard results, conclusive evidence, well pfew, it's not news that matter. I make up a dozen theories like this per day.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Friday February 11, 2011 @11:01AM (#35174176) Journal
    Cancer might resemble the kind of cells that eventually made the transition of prokaryotes to eukaryotes. But it is simplistic to say it is governed by just a few genes, so we should be able to handle it. Think about it, if these genes have escaped natural selection for 1 billion years, how hard it is going to be to fight them.

    Basically natural selection will be able to filter out any gene that affects the reproductive ability. Given the length of time, even extraordinarily minute differences will make a difference and eventually deleterious genes will be filtered out. But if some gene trades improved fitness at the reproductive stage for some serious cost to life at a later stage, that gene will never be filtered out. The extreme example is the trout that had traded it so much that it dies immediately after spawning. Its entire metabolism is structured to improve fitness before spawning to very serious inability to live after spawning.

    Even if these guys were right, and with modern science you are able to find that one gene whose loss of function causes cancer, and they are able to fix it, all it means is you will not die of cancer, but will die of other geriatric diseases. Some of them are painful, some of them are embarrassing. But the most heart wrenching ones are those that trap a dead brain in a functioning body or a functioning brain in a dying body.

    I wish science would concentrate on improving the quality of life when alive and allow both the body and the brain to die together painlessly.

  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday February 11, 2011 @11:02AM (#35174198)

    That web scam's putative mechanism for DCA activity is that cancer cells have completely inactive mitochondria? Are you fucking kidding me? Do you even know what a mitochondrion does?

  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday February 11, 2011 @11:04AM (#35174248)

    The arrogance is not present in the original source: they present their hypothesis, outline how it can be tested, and explain its potential impact on cancer research. The hyperbole and hubris comes from the author of the summary and the article, not the scientists. They only write of "new reasons for optimism".

  • Re:not so easy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ponder Stibions ( 962426 ) <> on Friday February 11, 2011 @11:10AM (#35174318) Homepage

    This is exactly the problem: our genes are like Windows, they just keep adding stuff and patching up the old code, and never start fresh. You never know what you'll break by patching the latest issue...

  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Friday February 11, 2011 @11:12AM (#35174344) Homepage Journal

    You are a mindless jerk.

  • Re:Yeah Right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by radtea ( 464814 ) on Friday February 11, 2011 @11:59AM (#35175142)

    they merely had this great idea, while looking at the stars after smoking some of the good stuff.

    Their entire "theory" boils down to this: "We think that the tumours that develop in cancer patients today take the same form as these simple cellular structures did more than a billion years ago,” he said. ("but we have no particular reason to believe that", he added quietly.)

    There is simply no basis for their claim other than "cars are a means of transportation, planes are a means of transportation, so maybe cars are planes after they've landed". I mean, "cancers are loose aggregations of cells, early metazooans were probably loose aggregations of cells, so maybe cancers are early metazooans resurfacing in your body."

    Everything we know about the detailed genetics of cancer--which is quite a lot--suggests this is nonsense. If this were the case we'd expect to see far more genetic similarity between cancers than we do, as the hypothesis implies ancient conserved mechanisms for which there is no sign in the genomics of cancer. Cancer is a diverse disease, and while we are making steady progress against it there are fundamental mechanisms that are still poorly understood because they are complicated. The role of various micro-RNAs in particular is only now becoming clear, for example.

    The fundamental complexity of the disease is exactly what you would expect if it metazooan life was pulling off a complex and delicate balancing act that can go wrong in multiple ways, and humans had been subject to intense selective pressure for longer lives due to the advantage to a social primate with both representational and operational intelligence of having a few grandparents around in your kin-group. Human cancers are ferociously complex compared to most other species, which is exactly what you would not expect based on this hypothesis that all cancers in all species are pretty much similar at root.

    Their "advice" to researchers to focus on what amount to tumour supressor genes would be important if this was 1990.

    The genius here is all marketing, not science. They have managed to get an idiotic idea that has zero utility to anyone working on the genetics of cancer quite widely disseminated. That's pretty clever. I only wish the scientists who are in the trenches doing detailed experimental investigations of actual cancer mechanisms were half as good at promoting their thankless and difficult work as these clowns are. Their hypothesis would make a great science fiction story. Unfortunately, that's not the way they've chosen to promote it.

Fear is the greatest salesman. -- Robert Klein