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What does Cancer have to do with Evolution???

How many of your Favorite People On Earth have you lost to cancer?

My list is long and growing. My dad died at age 44. Cancer took out my grandpa; numerous aunts and uncles, and my dear friend Tom Hoobyar, the closest person I had to a dad in my adult life. I’ve got two childhood friends, my age, battling it right now.

In my book Evolution 2.0 I said: Cancer is evolution run amok, and until we get evolution right we’re never gonna beat cancer.

A friend put me in touch with a scientist named Henry Heng because of my book. Henry is a cancer researcher in Detroit.  

Long before I wrote anything about cancer, Henry had reached the conclusion, simply based on his own cancer research, that the conventional theory of evolution was unworkable.

He saw that cancer evolves at breathtaking speed – especially once you start trying as hard as you can to kill it.

This is why chemotherapy is so often a death sentence.

Standard evolutionary theory couldn’t account for any of this. It explained “survival of the fittest” but not “arrival of the fittest” – which, if you think about it, is THE question.

The old model did a poor job of explaining the Cambrian explosion, the proliferation of species that happened 540 million years ago. Ken Pienta calls tumor metastasis “The Cancer Cambrian” because the two behave exactly the same way.

Henry felt we should be doing a much better job of answering these questions. He insisted that if we found answers… we would also beat cancer.

And maybe our loved ones would stop dying early.

Major evolutionary systems like epigenetics – from the “Swiss Army Knife” I describe in my book – were either ignored or simply “tacked on” to the old theory. Like someone slapped giant race car tires on the rear axle of a rusty 1991 Ford Escort and called it a race car.

Evolutionary theory had to be stripped down to the engine blocks and rebuilt from the ground up. Because so far as Henry could tell, these systems were the very engine of high-speed cancer evolution.

Henry offered a superior model. He wrote a book in 2011. His manuscript was well on its way to getting published by a major academic publisher.

But one of their traditional peer reviewers threw a fit.

Henry’s book got canned.

Fast forward to 2019 and his book gets rehashed, rewritten, re-released under the title “Genome Chaos.” It explores the overlooked details of how cancer cells evolve. 

Then Henry got in touch with James Shapiro, a well-known geneticist from the University of Chicago. Shapiro had published a book with a similar perspective on evolutionary change in 2011 with the title Evolution: A View from the 21st Century.

Shapiro had come to nearly identical conclusions as Henry, before Henry did, but from a completely different vantage point. As Shapiro began comparing notes with Henry, he realized:

“Most people think of evolutionary biology as (hopefully) providing lessons to cancer biologists. But cancer may well have more to teach us about evolution than traditional evolutionary studies!”

The lessons may also arrive much faster. Because a handful of cancer cells can explode into 1000+ species in a matter of weeks. Cancer is “time compression” for an evolutionary biologist.

Evolution is the key to cancer… and cancer is the key to evolution.

This is why I’ve teamed up with a group of world class scientists including Henry Heng, James Shapiro, Denis Noble, Azra Raza and Bruker CEO Frank Laukien. We are bringing the best cancer renegades together with the best “new school” evolution researchers. We’re organizing the first conference in history to specifically focus on high-speed mechanisms of biological evolution as they relate to cancer biology and therapies.

This is an interdisciplinary conference bringing together scientists from a dozen fields, from Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and MD Anderson. We are re-thinking cancer biology at a high level.

The Zoom conference takes place October 14-16. Not only will we provide 3 half-days of intensive discussion and discovery, many of the speakers will be hosting live Q&A in subsequent weeks.

Register here:

www.CancerEvolution.org

Evolution 2.0: 5 Year Anniversary!

Five years ago this week, the first shipment of Evolution 2.0 books landed on my doorstep. It had taken six years to write. I felt such incredible elation.

The book has weathered exacting scrutiny by opponents. It’s brought me into a number of debates with people across the spectrum from left to right. While minor errors were corrected in the 2017 paperback, there is no substantial criticism of the book in the blogosphere. The book has sold well with over 200 reviews on Amazon (4.4 stars).

The Evolution 2.0 Prize is the world’s largest science research prize at $10 million. Announced at the Royal Society in May 2019 with Oxford professors Denis Noble and Paul Flather, the event was documented on video by Voices From Oxford. The story ran in the Financial Times three days later.

Harvard geneticist George Church is one of our judges for the prize; George’s lab was featured on the 60 Minutes television show in 2019. Time Magazine appointed him one of the 100 most influential people in 2017. Evolution 2.0 has been supported by many top scientists including Stuart Kauffman, Paul Davies, Azra Raza, Michael Ruse, James Shapiro, Frank Laukien, Andrew Briggs and John Torday.

In 2019 world renowned chemist Lee Cronin from the University of Glasgow appeared on the Unbelievable show alongside me and Denis Noble, where he announced he intends to win the prize. Which led to Cronin debating chemist James Tour a few weeks later, on the same show.

The book had to achieve six goals simultaneously:

  1. Satisfy the demands of a PhD molecular biologist
  2. Understandable and readable for a high school biology student
  3. Convince design advocates that evolution is true
  4. Convince evolutionists that the cell can redesign itself
  5. Read like non-religious science book
  6. Address theological questions of Christians, Muslims and Jews

A slalom. But it managed to do all these things.

Every author knows: Putting your book into the world is like sending your child to kindergarten where you dearly hope he won’t get beat up by the bullies on the playground. The first bully Evolution 2.0 encountered out of the gate was Jerry Coyne, who admitted in the very first paragraph that he hadn’t actually read the book. Fortunately, none of Coyne’s criticisms were substantive; they actually reinforced the necessity of my book.

A watershed moment came 15 months after the book was launched, when the Royal Society hosted the “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology” conference in London. Up to that point, evolutionary theory was dominated by a clique of militant Neo-Darwinists who insisted that evolution is not goal-directed and that “natural selection is the only game in town.”

Scientists from the Third Way of Evolution group including James Shapiro, Eva Jablonka, Patrick Bateson and others insisted that the evidence had become overwhelming that living things actively participate in their own evolution; not just in standard “new species” evolution, but also in diseases and cancer. This completely reverses cause and effect in biology. It calls for an “Extended Synthesis” which is the standard term for the viewpoint Evolution 2.0 espouses.

Opponents attempted to cancel the 2016 Royal Society Evolution meeting by circulating a petition, but the conference pressed forward nevertheless. After that, the Neo-Darwinists fell silent. Why? Because to put it bluntly, Neo-Darwinism is no longer a defensible scientific theory. They could only embarrass themselves by persisting. Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and Daniel Dennett have all been offered opportunities to debate Denis Noble; all have declined.

Because evolutionary biology is no longer controlled by bullies, freedom to differ with the traditional view has greatly increased. This has altered the landscape. Only a few years ago, it was not uncommon for grad students and postdocs to say to me, “Um… I agree with a lot of your ideas, but to say so in public would damage my career prospects.” I hear that much less these days.

Since Evolution 2.0 was introduced, numerous books espousing related views have also become popular:

Dance to the Tune of Life: Biological Relativity by Denis Noble

COSMOSAPIENS by John Hands

Evolution: A View from the 21st Century by James Shapiro

Purpose and Desire by J. Scott Turner

The Music of Life by Denis Noble

Recordings and proceedings from the 2016 Royal Society Evolution Meeting

The Tangled Tree by David Quammen

Genome Chaos by Henry Heng

Frank Laukien, CEO of Bruker Corporation, is working on a new book called Natural Evolution 4.0: Feedback-Driven and Actively Accelerated Biological Evolution. Watch for it.

I’ve interviewed many of these fine people on the Evolution 2.0 Podcast.

“OK,” you say. “Good for you, Perry.. But… Why does this matter?

Here’s why Evolution 2.0 matters:

  1. We Still Haven’t Solved Cancer

Evolutionary theory directly informs practical, medical, life and death issues. Cancer is cells evolving out of control. Kenneth Pienta at Johns Hopkins University calls tumor metastasis “The Cancer Cambrian,” referring to the massive proliferation of new species 540 million years ago, called the Cambrian Explosion. This name is so descriptive because one species of cancer cell can become 1000 species of cancer cells in weeks, using the same evolutionary toolkit that generated the diversity on planet earth.

And if you think it’s hard to kill one species of cancer cell… try taking on 1000 species! This is why your sister-in-law starts chemo… two months later they tell her “your numbers are looking really great and your tumors have shrunk 75%”…

…then four months after that, you’re attending her funeral.

Columbia University Oncologist Azra Raza attests that misunderstandings of evolution have a great deal to do with the fact that Stage 3 and Stage 4 cancer patients are no better off now than in 1930.

The old version of evolution has blinded us to understanding cancer because it doesn’t make accurate predictions. We will never solve cancer until we replace the current model of evolution with a model that actually works.

We are proud to be the 501c3 umbrella for the Cancer and Evolution Symposium (www.CancerEvolution.org) organized by James Shapiro, Frank Laukien, Denis Noble, Henry Heng and myself, which will be held online October 14-16, 2020. This is an interdisciplinary meeting of experts from oncology, clinical research, evolutionary biology, chemistry, physics, engineering from some of the best institutions in the world including Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford, Arizona State, Johns Hopkins and MD Anderson.

  1. Genetics has been Upside Down for 50 Years

“Selfish Gene” and “genes determine everything” dogmas spurred optimism that the human genome project would spawn huge leaps in disease treatment and eliminate birth defects. While incredibly valuable, the human genome project has delivered far less than originally promised.

As Nobel Prize winner and geneticist Paul Nurse, former head of the Royal Society, says science has understated the importance of the cell in comparison to the gene. This is a pressing medical issue for everyone alive.

Do genes build cells? Yes… but cells also build genes. The cell is primary.

  1. We Still Don’t Understand Viruses!

Let’s not forget about the COVID-19 pandemic. At its heart is the fundamental question of how viruses evolve. Supposing we currently understand 5-10% of how animals, plants and cells evolve, we only understand 1-2% of how viruses evolve. We don’t know how viruses generate novel “orfan” proteins; we don’t know where viruses originally came from; and we don’t understand how various families of viruses originated.

Feverish debates about whether COVID was engineered in a lab; whether it’s OK to do “gain of function” experiments or not, and how SARS-COV-2 jumped from bats to humans (with perhaps other animals between) are all evolution questions. Most virologists are running with the assumption that these evolutionary changes happened purposelessly. I believe this is wrong, and as long as we’re working with that assumption, we’ll never crack the code on viruses.

  1. Life IS Purposeful

I grew weary of dogma and unfounded assertions that become religion-like, for no good reason. Evolution sits at the intersection of science and religion. And I firmly believe that even if you set theology aside, nature speaks for herself.

Is evolution a process of chance and blind chaos, as some famous scientists insist? Or are living things intentional? Do we need to redefine “evolution” to mean purposeful and adaptive?

These questions are not merely academic; they matter to our very civilization. If evolution requires ingenuity at the cellular level, and not merely chance and selection, this has sweeping implications for medicine, health care, and technology.

If purpose and intentionality are essential to life, that changes everything.

  1. Trashing the Earth

Our new understanding of evolution signals a moral responsibility toward the environment and toward each other. The only thing we’ll accomplish by denying it is to dehumanize ourselves and destroy our planet. I have no doubt that the prevailing “survival of the fittest” narrative pits man against the earth (and everything in it) by default. It is an absolutely loathsome philosophy.

And if science points to something beyond ourselves, then we can know for sure that we’re not just so many billiard balls banging around in the universe.

It means man’s search for meaning is not just blind groping, but a quest for something that is real.

Later on you can also expect to see new information and innovations in virus research and Artificial Intelligence.

During the next five years you will see Evolution 2.0 tackling very practical issues of medicine and applications.The Cancer & Evolution Symposium is the first such project.

Dear reader, much work remains to be done. Thank you so much for supporting the project. The next five years will be incredible, and I’m delighted to have your company in this adventure.

Perry Marshall

 

 

 

COVID Accelerates the Uberization of Food

In 2019, I interviewed Joel Salatin, advocate of alternate farming.

Our conversation prompted me to predict for the decade 2020 – 2029 that laws would be overturned making local food production and distribution a rising economic force.

I didn’t know then that COVID was about to speed that process up 10X.

Here’s what’s happened since then.

Random vs. Stochastic

There’s a category of control systems engineering called “Stochastic Control Systems” which is basically “How do you get the autopilot to get the airplane to Boston, even though there’s 114MPH headwind from the northeast, rainstorms and rising masses of air over Ohio.”

The models for this have been very well developed since roughly the 1930s. What it really means is “achieving goals despite high levels of noise coming into the system.”

The biology profession has butchered this term, assumed that stochastic is just a 5 dollar word for random… and then to add insult to injury, imposed this misunderstanding into evolutionary biology. Not realizing, ironically, that the cell and its Natural Genetic Engineering components are an even more sophisticated form of stochastic control system than the autopilot on an airplane.

A Poem About Coronavirus

Collateral Damage

by Mickie Kennedy

 

Is it too late at 50 years of age to plant roots

and form the kind of friendships that desire

an audience with a dying man, waiting hours

by a bed until he wakes and eats

a bit of vanilla pudding? I suspect it’s not

but life remains a cracked vase that still

holds water, an oven mitt on standby

as the oven timer counts down. It’s a game of

Read more »

Picasso Tadpoles: Michael Levin on the ‘Dark Matter’ of Biology

Dr. Michael Levin of Tufts University crosses many disciplines: computer science, embryo development, cancer and tumor research; limb regeneration; evolutionary theory and neural networks.

If you watch some of Michael’s fascinating talks at https://ase.tufts.edu/biology/labs/levin/research/presentations.htm he’ll take you down his magical rabbit hole including worms that grow new heads when you cut them in half, tumors that heal themselves and eyes planted on tails that actually work.

In this interview, Michael explodes the myth that “we’ve got it mostly figured out.”

The truth is closer to 1% understanding and 99% is Dark Matter.

Discover Michael’s research at https://allencenter.tufts.edu/our-team/michael-levin/ and http://www.drmichaellevin.org.


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Algorithm vs. Agent: Creating Information with iPhone Autofill

Here we illustrate the difference between algorithms and conscious beings playing a simple game on the iPhone: If you ONLY get to use autofill, how long can you keep the game going? Pretty long, so long as you make choices. On the other hand, if you just pick choices at random, or let the phone make the choice for you, you immediately devolve into repetitive gibberish.

This illustrates the fundamental difference between humans and algorithms. Humans anticipate the future, where algorithms can only respond to the present based on patterns in the past. The difference is huge. This problem exists no matter how sophisticated the algorithm. This simple game illustrates one of the most critical limitations of AI as it currently exists.

See below for the transcript: Read more »

Azra Raza On Cancer’s $250 Billion Elephant-In-The-Room

Azra Raza treated cancer patients for 30 years, but not even the loss of her Oncologist husband could provoke her to write a book. It took the death of her daughter’s dearest 22 year old friend – when suddenly she realized she had to speak up.

Here we discuss the one most important thing that The System overlooks – THE PATIENT’S ANGUISH – and speaks out about the state of cancer research in the 21st century. Groupthink, sexism, ignorance of history, and absence of empathy… and no one is in charge.

A quarter-trillion dollars later, we’re still carrying out the same punishing treatments we were doling out in the 1970s – where life extensions of six weeks are heralded as “breakthroughs.”

We discuss the “Cancer Cambrian” and the great black hole that is our grasp of cancer cellular evolution.

Finally, witness Azra’s dream of a superior system for detecting and beating cancer.

Azra Raza’s Website — https://azraraza.com/

Azra’s Book, The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last — https://amzn.to/39EC5hg

Read more »

Trouble In Origin Of Life Paradise

James Tour, a renowned nanochemist at Rice University, has been openly critical of Origin Of Life literature for being too optimistic, too sanguine and at times misleading. See this video for example www.youtube.com/watch?v=zU7Lww-sBPg

When Perry Marshall took part in a discussion on the Unbelievable show with Denis Noble and Lee Cronin, host Justin Brierley mentioned Tour and his criticism. A reaction ensued, which led to Tour and Cronin going head to head on an international radio program and podcast. Here, we re-broadcast the scene that provoked the controversy and the debate that followed.

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TRANSCRIPT OF THE DEBATE:

Read more »

Dynamic Kinetic Chemistry and the Origin Of Life

Addy Pross is a Chemist at Ben Gurion University in Israel. He’s author of “What is Life: How Chemistry Becomes Biology” by Oxford University Press. Here we enjoyed a great conversation about his specialty, Systems Chemistry, a new branch of science that enables us to build complex networks of chemical reactions like those found inside of cells.

We explore the unanswered questions that continue to perplex scientists of all kinds.

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