John Pepper, National Cancer Institute – Cancer as a failure of multicellularity

Speaker: John W. Pepper, Ph.D. received his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Michigan in 1966. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Santa Fe Institute, where he now serves as a member of the External Research Faculty. He is also a biologist at the National Cancer
Institute. His research focuses on the theory of multilevel selection and evolution, and on applications of this theory. Currently, he is working primarily on applications of evolutionary theory to complex diseases, including cancer. His major goal is to bring scientific understanding of evolution to bear in understanding the role of somatic cell-level evolution in the origin and progression of cancer. Pepper’s 31 peer-reviewed publications in behavioral ecology, evolutionary theory and its applications, and in cancer biology have been cited an average of 25 times each.

Location: Biodesign Auditorium

Web Cast: View Web Cast

Date & Time: February 9th, 2012 12:00 p.m.

Title: Cancer as a failure of multicellularity

Abstract: Cancer results from a process of cellular evolution. Key cancer defenses and vulnerabilities
both arose from the ancient evolutionary transition from single-celled to multicellular
organisms. Because cellular evolution leads inexorably to cancer, organismal evolution has
led to adaptations that organize cell reproduction into patterns that are less subject to cellular
evolution. We used an agent-based computational model of evolution inside tissues to test the
hypothesis that cell differentiation is crucial to suppressing cellular evolution within the body.
The hypothesis was supported. If this most basic safeguard is compromised, all the obstacles
to cancer built by organismal evolution are quickly dismantled by cellular evolution within the

Thank you and if you have questions please contact Amanda Wilber! And don’t forget, coffee will be served!

Amanda Wilber, Center for the Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology

Arizona State University | P.O. Box 871504 | Tempe, AZ 85287

480.965.3860 | Fax: 480.965.6362
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