Cancer is NOT an evolutionary atavism

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A while back, two physicists, Paul Davies and Charles Lineweaver, announced their explanation for cancer with a novel theory, which is theirs, that cancers are atavisms recapitulating in a Haeckelian reverse double backflip their premetazoan ancestry. They seemed very proud of their idea. Now they’ve done it again, repeating the same claims all over again. And worse, they’ve now published it in the journal Physical Biology, under the title “Cancer tumors as Metazoa 1.0: tapping genes of ancient ancestors”.

A while back, two physicists, Paul Davies and Charles Lineweaver, announced their explanation for cancer with a novel theory, which is theirs, that cancers are atavisms recapitulating in a Haeckelian reverse double backflip their premetazoan ancestry. They seemed very proud of their idea.

I was aghast, as you might guess. They even claimed that human embryos go through a fish/amphibian stage with gills, webbed feet, and tails in a pattern of Haeckelian development. They do not understand evolution, development, or cancer, facts that were apparent even in the absence of their admission that they had no prior knowledge, and it was freaking embarrassing to see two smart guys with a measure of legitimate prestige in their own specialties charging off into another discipline with such crackpot notions.

Now they’ve done it again, repeating the same claims all over again. And worse, they’ve now published it in the journal Physical Biology, under the title “Cancer tumors as Metazoa 1.0: tapping genes of ancient ancestors”.

View the original article here: Aaargh! Physicists! Again!

  • donot bother

    This articles embodies opinion- in my opinion, but embarrassingly avoids arguing for the opinion- which if i to argue simply, – what are the reasons that these people to be wrong even in their hypothesis?

    Please even the priest in a sermon ‘explains’ what he read earlier to the lay-believers, with some ‘explanation’- where are yours?

    Really, “I was aghast, as you might guess”- some of us maybe bad in guessing -what-you-guesses kinda games! :P

  • Mikhail Yustanov

    I wanted to comment on your original article, but due to some stupid website maintenance problem I couldn’t do it. That was a nice rebuttal you have of Paul Davies’ theory (or parts of it), and could potentially shape it in a more useful form. Some of your arguments are good, but some are rather confusing.

    Firstly, when you talked of ancestral genes, you said they are either lost or recruited to some new functions. You seem to overlook those ancestral genes (or programs) which Davies repeatedly mention that are only reserved for specific functions, like in embryogenesis or wound healing. ( It is obvious Davies is referring to the EMT. ) And when they become inappropriately activated, they generate cancer stem cells or initiate metastasis…

    Secondly, your example about Rb and TSGs. Good but doesn’t really serve your point. I think what Davies is trying to say through his model is that the cellular proliferation program is more robust, at least in the case of cancer. And this is certainly true. We can knock out an oncogene driver pathway (eg. EGFR) in the clinic, but some other alternate pathway always takes over. Whereas cancer cells “shoot the guard” in the case of Rb, and no other pathway emerge to take its place (to regulate cell cycle at least). Now evolution certainly plays a role in this and Davies might just be rephrasing something that’s known all along, but his point is still valid.

    Thirdly, you don’t seem to address his points about metabolism.

  • Chris Mannering

    All this stinging criticism, but not much in the way of FIRST assembling his ideas to their strongest form THEN controlling for gaps in knowledge and ONLY THEN assessing the ideas. With billions spent to not great effect, the insecurity of cancer researchers is understandable. But don’t take it out on Davies…he was invited.
    What is interesting though, is that physics is in a similar crisis as cancer research. Physicists are becoming very sensitive as to who should be allowed to solve physics challenges. Like cancer researchers, what they don’t seem to grok is that they are custodians only of their field, and all privileges are contingent on PROGRESS

  • Carroll H Hoagland III

    What is your choice ?, Doctors just regurgitate the research of doctors of science … they innately have nothing to contribute ..