Thursday, April 25, 2013

Searcher: What Cancer Can Teach Us About Evolution

Cancer affects many people and it seems as if almost everybody now knows a person that is affected by cancer. While searching on the web for cancer related articles, I came upon a article titled Cancer Can Teach Us About Our Own Evolution by Paul Davies on The Guardian. This article talks about how researchers, while in the search for a cure for cancer, took a step back and asked the basic question of "why does cancer exist?" Davies talks about how "cancer, it seems, is embedded in the basic machinery of life, a type of default state that can be triggered by some kind of insult." Cancer does not only affect people, but is also widespread among mammals, fish, reptiles, and even plants. It is said that "scientists have identified genes implicated in cancer that we are thought to be hundreds of millions of years old"(Davies). The article focuses on two evolutionary stages that are relevant to cancer. The first is an occurrence that happened over 2 billion years ago, "when large, complex cells emerged containing mitochondria... Biologists think mitochondria are the remnants of ancient bacteria. Tellingly, they undergo systematic changes as cancer develops, profoundly altering their chemical and physical properties"(Davies). The second phase was when multicelluar organisms emerged. For most of the history of Earth, only single-celled organisms existed, however, through this drastic change, "ordinary cells have outsourced their immortality to specialized germ cells"(Davies). This has to do with cancer because "cancer involves a breakdown of the covenant between germ cells and the rest" (Davies). Even though this is difficult to understand, it shows us that cancer has existed even before the evolution of man.

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