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June 14, 2010

I read an article in Best of Science writing 2009 by David Quammen, called Contagious Cancer, about the Tazmanian Devil Facial Tumors. Aside from being completely fascinating and heartbreaking, the article made me think. Quammen describes a pre-cambrian explosion world where cells are free from the need to cooperate– thus they proliferate with abandon. Once they began to organize into more complex, multicellular life, they needed controls. Any one cell that was selfish enough to proliferate prodigiously and chaotically would doom the entire organism. So cancer cells are like throwbacks to the old world of unicellular competition and selfish growth. Can we then gain insight into cancer by studying the base of the tree of life? Even if this question is entirely uninformed musing, I am fascinated by the intertwining of cancer and evolutionary thinking.

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