Cancer cells and adaptive explanations

Biology and Philosophy 27 (6):785-810 (2012)
Abstract
The aim of this paper is to assess the relevance of somatic evolution by natural selection to our understanding of cancer development. I do so in two steps. In the first part of the paper, I ask to what extent cancer cells meet the formal requirements for evolution by natural selection, relying on Godfrey-Smith’s (2009) framework of Darwinian populations. I argue that although they meet the minimal requirements for natural selection, cancer cells are not paradigmatic Darwinian populations. In the second part of the paper, I examine the most important examples of adaptation in cancer cells. I argue that they are not significant accumulations of evolutionary changes, and that as a consequence natural selection plays a lesser role in their explanation. Their explanation, I argue, is best sought in the previously existing wiring of the healthy cells.
Keywords cancer  adaptation  natural selection  explanation  Darwinian populations
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Alessandro Blasimme, Paolo Maugeri & Pierre-Luc Germain (2013). What Mechanisms Can't Do: Explanatory Frameworks and the Function of the P53 Gene in Molecular Oncology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):374-384.
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