Popular understanding holds that genetic changes create cancer. James DeGregori uses evolutionary principles to propose a new way of thinking about cancer’s occurrence. Cancer is as much a disease of evolution as it is of mutation, one in which mutated cells outcompete healthy cells in the ecosystem of the body’s tissues. His theory ties cancer’s progression, or lack thereof, to evolved strategies to maximize reproductive success.
Through natural selection, humans evolved genetic programs to maintain bodily health for as long as necessary to increase the odds of passing on our genes—but not much longer. These mechanisms engender a tissue environment that favors normal stem cells over precancerous ones. Healthy tissues thwart cancer cells’ ability to outcompete their precancerous rivals. But as our tissues age or accumulate damage from exposures such as smoking, normal stem cells find themselves less optimized to their ecosystem. Cancer-causing mutations can now help cells adapt to these altered tissue environments, and thus outcompete normal cells. Just as changes in a species’ habitat favor the evolution of new species, changes in tissue environments favor the growth of cancerous cells.
DeGregori’s perspective goes far in explaining who gets cancer, when it appears, and why. While we cannot avoid mutations, it may be possible to sustain our tissues’ natural and effective system of defense, even in the face of aging or harmful exposures. For those interested in learning how cancers arise within the human body, the insights in Adaptive Oncogenesis offer a compelling perspective.
Giamila Fantuzzi Harvard University Press, 2016 Library of Congress QH604.2.F36 2016 | Dewey Decimal 571.6
Whether classified as regulators of inflammation, metabolism, or other functions, a distinctive set of molecules enables the body to convey information from one cell to another. Giamila Fantuzzi offers a primer on molecular mediators that coordinate complex bodily processes, and explores the consequences of their discovery for modern medicine.
A new therapeutic strategy could break the stalemate in the war on cancer by targeting not all cancerous cells but the small fraction that lie at the root of cancers. Lucie Laplane offers a comprehensive analysis of cancer stem cell theory, based on an original interdisciplinary approach that combines biology, biomedical history, and philosophy.
The cell is the basic building block of life. In its 3.5 billion years on the planet, it has proven to be a powerhouse, spreading life first throughout the seas, then across land, developing the rich and complex diversity of life that populates the planet today.
With The Cell: A Visual Tour of the Building Block of Life, Jack Challoner treats readers to a visually stunning tour of these remarkable molecular machines. Most of the living things we’re familiar with—the plants in our gardens, the animals we eat—are composed of billions or trillions of cells. Most multicellular organisms consist of many different types of cells, each highly specialized to play a particular role—from building bones or producing the pigment in flower petals to fighting disease or sensing environmental cues. But the great majority of living things on our planet exist as single cell. These cellular singletons are every bit as successful and diverse as multicellular organisms, and our very existence relies on them.
The book is an authoritative yet accessible account of what goes on inside every living cell—from building proteins and producing energy to making identical copies of themselves—and the importance of these chemical reactions both on the familiar everyday scale and on the global scale. Along the way, Challoner sheds light on many of the most intriguing questions guiding current scientific research: What special properties make stem cells so promising in the treatment of injury and disease? How and when did single-celled organisms first come together to form multicellular ones? And how might scientists soon be prepared to build on the basic principles of cell biology to build similar living cells from scratch.
The question of why an individual would actively kill itself has long been an evolutionary mystery. Pierre M. Durand’s ambitious book answers this question through close inspection of life and death in the earliest cellular life. As Durand shows us, cell death is a fascinating lens through which to examine the interconnectedness, in evolutionary terms, of life and death. It is a truism to note that one does not exist without the other, but just how does this play out in evolutionary history?
These two processes have been studied from philosophical, theoretical, experimental, and genomic angles, but no one has yet integrated the information from these various disciplines. In this work, Durand synthesizes cellular studies of life and death looking at the origin of life and the evolutionary significance of programmed cellular death. The exciting and unexpected outcome of Durand’s analysis is the realization that life and death exhibit features of coevolution. The evolution of more complex cellular life depended on the coadaptation between traits that promote life and those that promote death. In an ironic twist, it becomes clear that, in many circumstances, programmed cell death is essential for sustaining life.
The origin of cells remains one of the most fundamental problems in biology, one that over the past two decades has spawned a large body of research and debate. With In Search of Cell History, Franklin M. Harold offers a comprehensive, impartial take on that research and the controversies that keep the field in turmoil.
Written in accessible language and complemented by a glossary for easy reference, this book investigates the full scope of cellular history. Assuming only a basic knowledge of cell biology, Harold examines such pivotal subjects as the relationship between cells and genes; the central role of bioenergetics in the origin of life; the status of the universal tree of life with its three stems and viral outliers; and the controversies surrounding the last universal common ancestor. He also delves deeply into the evolution of cellular organization, the origin of complex cells, and the incorporation of symbiotic organelles, and considers the fossil evidence for the earliest life on earth. In Search of Cell History shows us just how far we have come in understanding cell evolution—and the evolution of life in general—and how far we still have to go.
Making PCR is the fascinating, behind-the-scenes account of the invention of one of the most significant biotech discoveries in our time—the polymerase chain reaction. Transforming the practice and potential of molecular biology, PCR extends scientists' ability to identify and manipulate genetic materials and accurately reproduces millions of copies of a given segment in a short period of time. It makes abundant what was once scarce—the genetic material required for experimentation.
Making PCR explores the culture of biotechnology as it emerged at Certus Corporation during the 1980s and focuses on its distinctive configuration of scientific, technical, social, economic, political, and legal elements, each of which had its own separate trajectory over the preceding decade. The book contains interviews with the remarkable cast of characters who made PCR, including Kary Mullin, the maverick who received the Nobel prize for "discovering" it, as well as the team of young scientists and the company's business leaders.
This book shows how a contingently assembled practice emerged, composed of distinctive subjects, the site where they worked, and the object they invented.
"Paul Rabinow paints a . . . picture of the process of discovery in Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology [and] teases out every possible detail. . . . Makes for an intriguing read that raises many questions about our understanding of the twisting process of discovery itself."—David Bradley, New Scientist
"Rabinow's book belongs to a burgeoning genre: ethnographic studies of what scientists actually do in the lab. . . . A bold move."—Daniel Zalewski, Lingua Franca
"[Making PCR is] exotic territory, biomedical research, explored. . . . Rabinow describes a dance: the immigration and repatriation of scientists to and from the academic and business worlds."—Nancy Maull, New York Times Book Review
Does science aim at providing an account of the world that is literally true or objectively true? Understanding the difference requires paying close attention to metaphor and its role in science. In The Third Lens, Andrew S. Reynolds argues that metaphors, like microscopes and other instruments, are a vital tool in the construction of scientific knowledge and explanations of how the world works. More than just rhetorical devices for conveying difficult ideas, metaphors provide the conceptual means with which scientists interpret and intervene in the world.
Reynolds here investigates the role of metaphors in the creation of scientific concepts, theories, and explanations, using cell theory as his primary case study. He explores the history of key metaphors that have informed the field and the experimental, philosophical, and social circumstances under which they have emerged, risen in popularity, and in some cases faded from view. How we think of cells—as chambers, organisms, or even machines—makes a difference to scientific practice. Consequently, an accurate picture of how scientific knowledge is made requires us to understand how the metaphors scientists use—and the social values that often surreptitiously accompany them—influence our understanding of the world, and, ultimately, of ourselves.
The influence of metaphor isn’t limited to how we think about cells or proteins: in some cases they can even lead to real material change in the very nature of the thing in question, as scientists use technology to alter the reality to fit the metaphor. Drawing out the implications of science’s reliance upon metaphor, The Third Lens will be of interest to anyone working in the areas of history and philosophy of science, science studies, cell and molecular biology, science education and communication, and metaphor in general.
Although modern cell biology is often considered to have arisen following World War II in tandem with certain technological and methodological advances—in particular, the electron microscope and cell fractionation—its origins actually date to the 1830s and the development of cytology, the scientific study of cells. By 1924, with the publication of Edmund Vincent Cowdry’s General Cytology, the discipline had stretched beyond the bounds of purely microscopic observation to include the chemical, physical, and genetic analysis of cells. Inspired by Cowdry’s classic, watershed work, this book collects contributions from cell biologists, historians, and philosophers of science to explore the history and current status of cell biology.
Despite extraordinary advances in describing both the structure and function of cells, cell biology tends to be overshadowed by molecular biology, a field that developed contemporaneously. This book remedies that unjust disparity through an investigation of cell biology’s evolution and its role in pushing forward the boundaries of biological understanding. Contributors show that modern concepts of cell organization, mechanistic explanations, epigenetics, molecular thinking, and even computational approaches all can be placed on the continuum of cell studies from cytology to cell biology and beyond. The first book in the series Convening Science: Discovery at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Visions of Cell Biology sheds new light on a century of cellular discovery.
Wilhelm Reich, Biologist
James E. Strick Harvard University Press, 2015 Library of Congress BF109.R38S77 2015 | Dewey Decimal 150.195092
Wilhelm Reich’s experiments in the 1930s with cutting-edge light microscopy and time-lapse micro-cinematography were considered discredited, but not because of shoddy lab technique, as has been claimed. Scientific opposition to Reich’s experiments, James Strick argues, grew out of resistance to his unorthodox sexual theories and Marxist leanings.