This 2018 Michigan review subject was cancer evolution:
“Based on the fact that cancer typically represents a complex adaptive system, where there is no linear relationship between lower-level agents (such as each individual gene mutation) and emergent properties (such as cancer phenotypes), we call for a new strategy based on the evolutionary mechanism of aneuploidy [abnormal number of chromosomes] in cancer, rather than continuous analysis of various individual molecular mechanisms.
Cancer evolution can be understood by the dynamic interaction among four key components:
- Internal and external stress;
- Elevated genetic and non-genetic variations (either necessary for cellular adaptation or resulting from cellular damages under stress);
- Genome-based macro-cellular evolution (genome replacement, emergent as new systems); and
- Multiple levels of system constraint which prevent/slow down cancer evolution (from tissue/organ organization to the immune system interaction).
Since the sources of stress are unlimited and unavoidable (as they are required by all living systems), there are large numbers of gene mutations / epigenetic events / chromosomal aberrations, such as aneuploidy, that can be linked to stress-mediated genomic variants. Furthermore, as environmental constraints are constantly changing, even identical instances of aneuploidy will have completely different outcomes in the context of cancer evolution, as the results of each independent run of evolution will most likely differ.
Most current research efforts are focusing on molecular profiles based on an average population, and outliers are eliminated or ignored, either by the methods used or statistical tools. The traditional view of biological research is to identify patterns from “noise,” without the realization that the so-called “noise” in fact is heterogeneity, which represents a key feature of cancer evolution by functioning as the evolutionary potential.
Understanding the molecular mechanism (both cause and effect) of aneuploidy is far from enough. A better strategy is to monitor the evolutionary process by measuring evolutionary potential. For example, the overall degree of CIN [chromosome instability] is more predictive than individual gene mutation profile.”
Although I read many abstracts of cancer research papers every week, I usually don’t curate them. I curated this paper because the reviewers emphasized several themes of this blog, including:
- Further examples of how stress may shape one’s life.
- How researchers miss information when they ignore or process away variation:
“Studies have demonstrated the importance of outliers in cancer evolution, as cancer is an evolutionary game of outliers. While this phenomenon can provide a potential advantage for cellular adaptation, it can also, paradoxically, generate non-specific system stress, which can further produce more genetic and non-genetic variants which favor the disease condition.”
Epigenetics researchers may benefit from evolutionary viewpoints that incorporate the interactions of stress and “genetic and non-genetic variants.”
Since epigenetic changes require inheritance in order to persist, it would be a step forward to see researchers start “measuring evolutionary potential” of these inheritance processes.
https://molecularcytogenetics.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13039-018-0376-2 “Understanding aneuploidy in cancer through the lens of system inheritance, fuzzy inheritance and emergence of new genome systems”