Similar to seemingly maladaptive genes in general, the persistence of inherited cancer-causing mutant alleles in populations remains a challenging question for evolutionary biologists. In addition to traditional explanations such as senescence or antagonistic pleiotropy, here we put forward a new hypothesis to explain the retention of oncogenic mutations. We propose that although natural defenses evolve to prevent neoplasm formation and progression thus increasing organismal fitness, they also conceal the effects of cancer-causing mutant alleles on fitness and concomitantly protect inherited ones from purging by purifying selection. We also argue for the importance of the ecological contexts experienced by individuals and/or species. These contexts determine the locally predominant fitness-reducing risks, and hence can aid the prediction of how natural selection will influence cancer outcomes.
Field of Research
060305 Evolution of Developmental Systems
Socio Economic Objective
970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences
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