Multicellularity is dependent on cellular cooperation and is susceptible to cheating cells. Once cheating cells evolve within a multicellular organism, the breakdown in cooperation can manifest as cancer. Most species are able to physically escape these progressively evolving cheating cells by undergoing a reproductive single cell bottleneck that frees the next generation from potential cancer. However, some species such as certain obligate asexual planarians, lack a single cell bottleneck and instead reproduce by fission. This obligate fissiparous reproduction necessitates somatic immortality, which in turn allows cheating cells and cancer to develop over evolutionary time. This suggests that somatically immortal species likely evolved extreme cancer resistance mechanisms. However, very little is known about how immortal planarians avoid cancer and the impact of evolving selfish cells. I am interested in elucidating the potential tumour suppressive mechanisms found in immortal planarians and more generally understand the limits of cell cooperation within the context of an immortal soma.
Please feel free to contact me if you are a prospective student, potential collaborator, or if you have any questions. Other affiliations: Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP