Evolution, Cancers, and Purpose

I wasn’t going to cover this article originally, since erv did a while back ago.  However, a recent discussion got me to thinking about it from another perspective.  This will be a teaching article, so please allow me a bit of latitude in my discussion here.

Cancers are bad.  We all agree on that.  Right?

Well, everyone but the cancers.

Look at it this way.  Humans (and other organisms that get cancers) are massive collections of specialized cells that each perform a fairly unique task.  Muscle cells contract and relax.  Kidney cells filter toxins and water.  I could go on.  Each cell is something like a member of a country.  Each individual in the country is busy doing their share of the work of keeping the whole thing moving.  Cells are doing the same, keeping the body functioning.

However, both in countries and in cells, over time, you start to get a few people who game the system a little bit.  They stop contributing to the function of the society of body and start  doing what they want to do.  Which means living without working and reproducing without restraint (I mean, who wouldn’t want to live like that?)

In evolutionary terms, cancer cells have hit the jackpot.  They don’t even have to use any of the energy they gain to get more energy.  The body they are attached to does that for them.  All they have to do is reproduce.

Which brings back to the paper mentioned above.  From 3200 to 5800 somatic mutations per genome and from 43 to 213 chromosomal rearrangements is a huge number of mutations.  But when you think about it, you wonder so what?

The cancer cell has stopped doing what it’s supposed to be doing anyway.  Only two things matter to the cancer cell, reproduction and use of energy.  As long as those two functions are not disrupted, then the rest of the genome doesn’t matter.  I can’t stress this enough.

Any attack on a cancer cell must disrupt one of those two functions… which, unfortunately, is exactly the same as normal cells in the organism.  Which is why chemotherapy is highly dangerous to ones body too.

Again, in evolutionary terms, the cancer cell has it made.  They are fed and they don’t have to work.  They are, for all intents and purposes, the perfect cell… for what they do, which is reproduce.  Other cells have to keep working, using valuable energy to produce a product or function.  They are also told when they can reproduce.  Cancer cells don’t care.  They do what they want, when they want.

Remember, you can’t look at evolution from a human-centric position or a anything-centric position.  You must look at evolution from the point of view of the genome and the environment around it.  As far as humans go, cancer is bad.  As far as cancer cells are concerned, cancer is great.

Please note: I anthropomorphized the cells in the text, no one actually believes that cells think, feel, or act on their own.

This entry was posted in Biology, Evolution, evolution, Research Blogging, Science and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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