Transmissible cancers in mammals and bivalves: How many examples are there?

Predictions indicate widespread occurrence

Authors: Antoine M. Dujon; Georgina Bramwell; Benjamin Roche; Frédéric Thomas & Beata Ujvari

Source: BioEssays (NOV 2020)

Brief summary of the paper:

Transmissible cancers are elusive and understudied parasitic life forms caused by malignant clonal cells (nine lineages are known so far). They emerge by completing sequential steps that include breaking cell cooperation, evade anti‐cancer defences and shedding cells to infect new hosts. Transmissible cancers impair host fitness, and their importance as selective force is likely largely underestimated. It is, therefore, crucial to determine how common they might be in the wild.

Here, we draw a parallel between the steps required for a transmissible cancer to emerge and the steps required for an intelligent civilisation to emerge in the Milky Way using a modified Drake equation. Using numerical analyses, we estimate the potential number of extant marine and bivalve species in which transmissible cancers might exist.

Our results suggest that transmissible cancers are more common than expected, and that new lineages can be found by screening a large number of species.