PerspectiveCANCER

Unwanted Evolution

Science  22 Nov 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6161, pp. 938-939
DOI: 10.1126/science.1247887

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Summary

We mostly think of evolution as a process that has the power to build structures of incredible beauty and functionality, like multicellular organisms, the nervous system, and human language. But evolutionary dynamics can also lead to processes that are not wanted, such as cancer, because they oppose the survival interests of the organism. The somatic evolution of cancer is a consequence of our cells being individual replicators. Upon acquiring mutations, cells can revert to their primitive program of proliferation, competition for survival, and selection of the fittest. On page 995 of this issue, Vermeulen et al. (1) demonstrate how multicellular organisms keep this unwanted evolution in check. By quantifying the effects of mutations that frequently occur during colorectal tumor development, the authors show that intestinal tissue architecture acts as a suppressor of selection.

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