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Reversion to Type

A cosmologist and his colleagues, tasked with re-thinking cancer, have developed an "atavistic" model of cancer that says that the disease may be the result of cells' attempts to protect themselves, Scientific American reports.

Arizona State University's Paul Davies and his colleagues suggest in BioEssays that cancer stems from cells' reversion to an ancestral phenotype. Single-celled organisms used to benefit from proliferation, but Davies tells Scientific American that "immortality was outsourced to the eggs and sperm" in multicellular organisms. In cancer, they say, this recently evolved control over somatic cell proliferation and differentiation is lost.

"Cancer is a fail-safe," Davies adds. "Once the subroutine is triggered, it implements its program ruthlessly."

This model, the researchers say, also suggests different approaches for targeting cancer.

Other researchers are unconvinced, SciAm points out. "The 'predictions' of atavism are nothing that scientists haven't come to by other paths," David Gorski, a surgical oncologist at Wayne State University, says.

The Scan

Cancer Survival Linked to Mutational Burden in Pan-Cancer Analysis

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Australian Survey Points to Public Support for Genetic Risk Disclosure in Relatives of At-Risk Individuals

A survey in the European Journal of Human Genetics suggests most adult Australians are in favor of finding out if a relative tests positive for a medically actionable genetic variant.

Study Links Evolution of Stony Coral Skeleton to Bicarbonate Transporter Gene

A PNAS paper focuses on a skeleton-related bicarbonate transporter gene introduced to stony coral ancestors by tandem duplication.

Hormone-Based Gene Therapy to Sterilize Domestic Cat

A new paper in Nature Communication suggests that gene therapy could be a safer alternative to spaying domestic cats.