Friday, February 11, 2011
Cancer resembles life 1 billion years ago, say astrobiologists - microbiology, genomics, genetics, evolution, cell biology, cancer, astrobiology - Australian Life Scientist
Cancer resembles life in the transition between single-celled organisms and complex multicellular organisms.
Sometimes stepping back and looking at the big picture can lend new clarity to an ongoing debate. In this case, it took the distant perspective of astrobiologists to reckon the origins of cancer.
The astrobiologists, working with oncologists in the US, have suggested that cancer resembles ancient forms of life that flourished between 600 million and 1 billion years ago.
Read more about what this discovery means for cancer research.
The genes that controlled the behaviour of these early multicellular organisms still reside within our own cells, managed by more recent genes that keep them in check.
It's when these newer controlling genes fail that the older mechanisms take over, and the cell reverts to its earlier behaviours and grows out of control.
The new theory, published in the journal Physical Biology, has been put forward by two leading figures in the world of cosmology and astrobiology: Paul Davies, director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, Arizona State University; and Charles Lineweaver, from the Australian National University.
In the paper, they suggest that a close look at cancer shows similarities with early forms of multicellular life.
"'Advanced' metazoan life of the form we now know, i.e. organisms with cell specialization and organ differentiation, was preceded by colonies of eukaryotic cells in which cellular cooperation was fairly rudimentary, consisting of networks of adhering cells exchanging information chemically, and forming self-organized assemblages with only a moderate division of labor," they write.
According to Lineweaver, this suggests that cancer is an atavism, or an evolutionary throwback.
“Unlike bacteria and viruses, cancer has not developed the capacity to evolve into new forms. In fact, cancer is better understood as the reversion of cells to the way they behaved a little over one billion years ago, when humans were nothing more than loose-knit colonies of only partially differentiated cells.
“We think that the tumours that develop in cancer patients today take the same form as these simple cellular structures did more than a billion years ago,” he said.
In a way, the genes that controlled this early multi-cellular form of life are like a computer operating system's 'safe mode', and when there are failures or mutations in the more recent genes that manage the way cells specialise and interact to form the complex life of today, then the earlier level of programming takes over.
One piece of evidence to support this theory is that cancers appear in virtually all metazoans, with the notable exception of the bizarre naked mole rat.
"This quasi-ubiquity suggests that the mechanisms of cancer are deep-rooted in evolutionary history, a conjecture that receives support from both paleontology and genetics," they write.
Their notion is in contrast to a prevailing theory that cancer cells are 'rogue' cells that evolve rapidly within the body, overcoming the normal slew of cellular defences.
However, Davies and Lineweaver point out that cancer cells are highly cooperative with each other, if competing with the host's cells. This suggests a pre-existing complexity that is reminiscent of early multicellular life.
They also point out that cancers' manifold survival mechanisms are predictable, and unlikely to emerge spontaneously through evolution within each individual in such a consistent way.
The good news is that this means combating cancer is not necessarily as complex as if the cancers were rogue cells evolving new and novel defence mechanisms within the body.
Instead, because cancers fall back on the same evolved mechanisms that were used by early life, we can expect them to remain predictable, thus if they're susceptible to treatment, it's unlikely they'll evolve new ways to get around it.
"Given cancer’s formidable complexity and diversity, how might one make progress toward controlling it? If the atavism hypothesis is correct, there are new reasons for optimism," they write.
"The postulated toolkit of Metazoa 2.0, although admittedly complex, is nevertheless a ﬁxed and ﬁnite feature of multicellular life. The number of tools in the kit is not inﬁnite. What one cancer learns cannot be passed on to the next generation of cancers in other patients.
"Cancer is not going anywhere evolutionarily; it just starts up all over again in the next patient."
They also suggest that new therapies could concentrate on the existing cellular regulation mechanisms that have evolved to keep these ancient genes in check.
The paper is available online at the Physical Biology site.
I assume that “sale!” signs in retail businesses are usually just BS. The stores keep normal prices higher than they should be so they can offer customers a faux discount. Whether it’s always true or just often true doesn’t matter. People don’t really get all that excited about signs that say “HUGE SALE 50% OFF” or whatever. We’re desensitized to it.
Groupon has been different, though. They’ve had real discounts, verifiably way below normal retail costs. That’s why so many tens of millions of people look forward to their Groupon email every day, and why so many people sign up for skydiving lessons that they never knew they wanted.
There are signs, though, that the model may not scale infinitely forever. Beyond just common sense, I mean. Some merchants have failed to take the coupons they’ve already sold on Groupon when they saw the overwhelming volume it brought in, for example.
Groupon seems to do a very good job of returning money to unhappy customers in those situations. And by doing that they’ve kept their brand strong and synonymous with getting genuine good deals.
Not today though.
Groupon offered users throughout the U.S. a $20 off coupon for Valentines Day flowers from FTD. People who bought the coupon had to use a special URL to purchase the flowers. And then they were shown a regular price for the flowers of $50 before the $20 coupon.
Which is fine except that the regular FTD site shows a price of $40 for the same item, meaning Groupon users only really got $10 off, not $20.
This is all kinds of things. False advertising by FTD to start, since they’re showing a different retail price for Groupon users v. people coming to FTD without the Groupon link. And, say users, the coupon only works if you go through the Groupon link.
There are other complaints about the offer as well, like FTD pushing deliveries to February 15, and charging a service fee. Those things are annoying. But the different price point is what really worries me.
For Groupon to continue to grow they need to get more big national advertisers, and those advertisers need to not be screwing around with customer trust. The Gap campaign was well handled. This FTD “deal” wasn’t.
Sour deals like this hurt Groupon’s brand, because burned customers won’t be so eager to check out the new daily deals. They’ll just assume it’s a scam, and ignore it all. Just like those HUGE SALE! signs in the window at your favorite retail store.
Image credit (first image)
Today is Thomas Edison's 164th birthday. Thomas Edison was one of the world's most famous inventors. Some of his inventions include the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and an electric light bulb. He has 1,093 U.S. patents under his belt making him one of, if not the most, achieved inventors of all time.
To celebrate his birthday, Google has posted an animated logo appreciating some of his more well-known inventions. The logo contains old-fashion patent like diagrams of his inventions, including the electric lightbulb, the phonograph and the motion picture camera.
Here is the animated version:
I actually spent a lot of time nearby where he lived and worked. He and his family lived at 25 Gramercy Park in New York City, right near the old Baruch College, City University of New York, where I went to undergrad. So I parked right near his old home fairly often.
In any event, we also posted a special theme for Edison's birthday. Here is a screen shot of the theme:
Google is making a big push into the wedding planning scene today, launching a full fledged planning portal for brides and grooms to be. Google Weddings is a destination that houses wedding-specific templates in Google Sites, Google Docs and Picnik for save-the-dates, wedding websites, planning materials, invitations and more.
Google has also partnered with wedding planner Michelle Rago to provide tips and guidance on which designs to use. This isn’t Google’s first move in the wedding planning world, the search giant also began offering customized wedding templates in Google Docs a year ago that let users access pre-made documents to track your wedding budget, collect addresses for invitations, compare vendors and much more.
I know it’s a little bit odd for Google to get into the wedding planning space but it will no doubt boost the Google Apps products appeal to twenty or thirty something brides. Being that I actually planned parts of my wedding via Google Docs, I think that these templates will be incredibly useful, especially when it comes to sharing documents with others.