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A 'New Species?'

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Researchers' current theory about cancer is that it starts with a handful of mutations and grows from there, says Science 2.0's Gunnar De Winter. But University of California, Berkeley, researcher Peter Duesberg and his colleagues contend that cancer arises from disruptions in the chromosomes, and that this constitutes "a form of speciation," De Winter says. "So, according to this view, cancers are newly evolved species, as they have new chromosomal karyotypes. On top of this, cancers are autonomous and don't need other cells for survival," he adds. Cancer cells are known to have an abnormal number of chromosomes, and most researchers see this as a consequence of cancer. Duesberg, however, argues that this chromosomal abnormality is the cause of cancer. "According to his theory, some initial chromosomal disruption messes with the cell’s chromosomes. In most cases this means the end of the cell, but sometimes, on rare occasions, this cell with disrupted chromosome might be able to keep dividing. This continued division will produce many unviable cells, but some will attain reproductive autonomy, a primary characteristic of both cancer cells and biological species," De Winter says. And though this theory may sound strange at first, it might explain some of the disease's common characteristics, like karyotypic and phenotypic individuality as well as the aneuploidy itself. And if cancer truly is another species, there might be a better shot at wiping it out, De Winter adds — somewhat darkly — "since we are quite good at wiping out other species."

The Scan

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