Bodily breakdown explained: How cell differentiation patterns suppress somatic evolution

December 14, 2007

Natural selection can occur at the cellular level, where it is detrimental to health. Fortunately it is normally controlled by a well-known pattern of ongoing cell differentiation in the mature tissues of animals, according to a new study published December 14 in PLoS Computational Biology.

The failure of normal cell differentiation patterns may explain cancer and senescent decline with aging, say researchers at the University of Arizona, the Santa Fe Institute, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Wistar Institute.

Darwinian natural selection and evolution is usually studied in populations of organisms, but it also applies to cellular populations; this is called “somatic” evolution. Such somatic evolution tends to reduce cooperation among cells, thus threatening the integrity of the organism.

In this study the authors proposed that a well-known pattern of ongoing cell differentiation in the mature tissues of animals functions to suppress somatic evolution, which is essential to the origin and sustainability of multicellular organisms.

The team, lead by Dr. John Pepper, tested this hypothesis using a computer simulation of cell population dynamics and evolution. The results were consistent with the hypothesis, suggesting that familiar patterns of ongoing cell differentiation were crucial to the evolution of multicellular animals, and remain crucial as a bodily defense against cancer.

Citation: Pepper JW, Sprouffske K, Maley CC (2007) Animal cell differentiation patterns suppress somatic evolution. PLoS Comput Biol 3(12): e250. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030250 (

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: Queen or worker? Flexibility between roles relies on just a few genes

Related Stories

Saturn's moon Titan

October 5, 2015

In ancient Greek lore, the Titans were giant deities of incredible strength who ruled during the legendary Golden Age and gave birth to the Olympian gods we all know and love. Saturn's largest moon, known as Titan, is therefore ...

Stem cells: forgotten by evolution?

November 2, 2005

Max Planck scientists show that adult stem cells are possibly just the remnants of evolution For a fairly long time, adult stem cells have been a point of scientific interest. Besides the question of how to use them therapeutically, ...

Recommended for you

Amazon deforestation leaps 16 percent in 2015

November 28, 2015

Illegal logging and clearing of Brazil's Amazon rainforest increased 16 percent in the last year, the government said, in a setback to the aim of stopping destruction of the world's greatest forest by 2030.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.