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Arizona Cancer Evolution Center

New study sheds light on many aspects of the evolution of cancer suppression in mammals.

Published in bioRxiv (the preprint server for biology) on March 5 2020.

Marc Tollis, Aika K. Schneider-Utaka, Carlo C. Maley.


Cancer is caused by genetic alterations that affect cellular fitness, and multicellular organisms have evolved mechanisms to suppress cancer such as cell cycle checkpoints and apoptosis. These pathways may be enhanced by the addition of tumor suppressor gene paralogs or deletion of oncogenes. To provide insights to the evolution of cancer suppression across the mammalian radiation, we estimated copy numbers for 548 human tumor suppressor gene and oncogene homologs in 63 mammalian genome assemblies. The naked mole rat contained the most cancer gene copies, consistent with the extremely low rates of cancer found in this species. We found a positive correlation between a species’ cancer gene copy number and it’s longevity, but not body size, contrary to predictions from Peto’s Paradox. Extremely long-lived mammals also contained more copies of caretaker genes in their genomes, suggesting that the maintenance of genome integrity is an essential form of cancer prevention in long-lived species. We found the strongest association between longevity and copy numbers of genes that are both germline and somatic tumor suppressor genes, suggesting selection has acted to suppress both hereditary and sporadic cancers. We also found a strong relationship between the number of tumor suppressor genes and the number of oncogenes in mammalian genomes, suggesting complex regulatory networks mediate the balance between cell proliferation and checks on tumor progression. This study is the first to investigate cancer gene expansions across the mammalian radiation and provides a springboard for potential human therapies based on evolutionary medicine.