It has long been recognized that cancer onset and progression represent a type of reversion to an ancestral quasi-unicellular phenotype. This general concept has been refined into the atavistic model of cancer that attempts to provide a quantitative analysis and testable predictions based on genomic data. Over the past decade, support for the multicellular-to-unicellular reversion predicted by the atavism model has come from phylostratigraphy. Here, we propose that cancer onset and progression involve more than a one-off multicellular-to-unicellular reversion, and are better described as a series of reversionary transitions. We make new predictions based on the chronology of the unicellular-eukaryote-to-multicellular-eukaryote transition. We also make new predictions based on three other evolutionary transitions that occurred in our lineage: eukaryogenesis, oxidative phosphorylation and the transition to adaptive immunity. We propose several modifications to current phylostratigraphy to improve age resolution to test these predictions. Also see the video abstract here: https://youtu.be/3unEu5JYJrQ.
- Atavistic model
- somatic mutation theory
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology