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The Evolution of Failure: Explaining Cancer as an Evolutionary Process

Lean, C and Plutynski, A (2016) The Evolution of Failure: Explaining Cancer as an Evolutionary Process. Biology and Philosophy, 31 (1). pp. 39-57.

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Abstract

One of the major developments in cancer research in recent years has been the construction of models that treat cancer as a cellular population subject to natural selection. We expand on this idea, drawing upon multilevel selection theory. Cancer is best understood in our view from a multilevel perspective, as both a by-product of selection at other levels of organization, and as subject to selection (and drift) at several levels of organization. Cancer is a by-product in two senses. First, cancer cells co-opt signaling pathways that are otherwise adaptive at the organismic level. Second, cancer is also a by-product of features distinctive to the metazoan lineage: cellular plasticity and modularity. Applying the multilevel perspective in this way permits one to explain transitions in complexity and individuality in cancer progression. Our argument is a reply to Germain’s (2012) scepticism towards the explanatory relevance of natural selection for cancer. The extent to which cancer fulfills the conditions for being a paradigmatic Darwinian population depends on the scale of analysis, and the details of the purported selective scenario. Taking a multilevel perspective clarifies some of the complexities surrounding how to best understand the relevance of evolutionary thinking in cancer progression.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Lean, Cchristopher.hunter.lean@gmail.com
Plutynski, Aaplutyns@wustl.edu
Keywords: cancer, evolutionary process, multilevel selection, tumors
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
General Issues > Explanation
Specific Sciences > Medicine
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Depositing User: A Plutynski
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2018 00:21
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2018 00:21
Item ID: 15331
Journal or Publication Title: Biology and Philosophy
Official URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10539...
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
General Issues > Explanation
Specific Sciences > Medicine
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Date: 2016
Page Range: pp. 39-57
Volume: 31
Number: 1
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/15331

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