A new study conducted by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) suggests a link between cancer and human evolution.
Writing about their work in the journal Genome Research, the researchers say that gene mutations that once helped humans survive may increase the possibility for diseases, including cancer.
They came to this conclusion after studying mutations in the genome of the mitochondria, a part of every cell responsible for energy production that is passed exclusively from mothers to their children.
The mitochondria are essential to every cell’s survival and our ability to perform the functions of living.
“Our ancestors responded to environmental changes, such as climate shift, with mutations that increased their chances of survival. But today, these same mutations predispose us toward complex diseases such as cancer,” says Dr. Dan Mishmar, a molecular biologist from the Department of Life Sciences at BGU.
“Although mitochondria’s role in the emergence of new species has been investigated recently, the idea that they are responsible for our susceptibility to illness startles many,” Dr. Mishmar adds.
During the study, the research team analysed the genome mitochondria mutations from 98 unrelated individuals.
According to them, combinations of mutations tended to occur in tumours in precisely the same DNA building blocks that changed during evolution.
The researchers also observed that the mitochondrial genome of humans, who had migrated out of Africa to Europe 100,000 years ago, carried seven mutations found in almost all of today’s Europeans.
“The concept that the same principles that drive evolution toward the emergence of new species govern the emergence of diseases is new. A clinician looks at the genome of a tumor, or other disease, and compares it to the normal population, looking for new mutations that do not occur there. I assume the mutations are already part of the population and have had a survival function. When these same mutations reoccur in the correct environment, they can cause disease,” Dr. Mishmar says.
The team say in the research article: “We show, strikingly, that evolution repeated itself in cancer. If we better understand how evolution moved, we can understand the genetic basis of many complex disorders.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if… those you don’t accept evolution, are not be allowed to receive the cancer cure. You don’t believe in evolution, so why should you want a cancer cure based on it?