• Carlos Sonnenschein

      Articles written in Journal of Biosciences

    • Emergentism as a default: Cancer as a problem of tissue organization

      Ana M Soto Carlos Sonnenschein

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      During the last fifty years the dominant stance in experimental biology has been reductionism. For the most part, research programs were based on the notion that genes were in ’the driver’s seat’ controlling the developmental program and determining normalcy and disease (genetic reductionism and genetic determinism). Philosophers were the first to realize that the belief that the Mendelian genes were reduced to DNA molecules was questionable. Soon after these pronouncements, experimental data confirmed their misgivings. The optimism of molecular biologists, fueled by early success in tackling relatively simple problems, has now been tempered by the difficulties found when attempting to understand complex biological problems.

      Here, we analyse experimental data that illustrate the shortcomings of this sort of reductionism. We also examine the prevailing paradigm in cancer research, the somatic mutation theory (SMT), the premises of which are: (i) cancer is derived from a single somatic cell that has accumulated multiple DNA mutations; (ii) the default state of cell proliferation in metazoa is quiescence; and (iii) cancer is a disease of cell proliferation caused by mutations in genes that control proliferation and the cell cycle. We challenge the notion that cancer is a cellular problem caused by mutated genes by assessing data gathered both from within the reductionist paradigm and from an alternative view that regards carcinogenesis as a developmental process gone awry. This alternative view, explored under the name of the tissue organization field theory (TOFT), is based on premises that place cancer in a different hierarchical level of complexity from that proposed by the SMT, namely: (i) carcinogenesis represents a problem of tissue organization comparable to organogenesis, and (ii) proliferation is the default state of all cells.

      We propose that the organicist view, in which the TOFT is based, is a good starting point from which to explore emergent phenomena. However, new theoretical concepts are needed in order to grapple with the apparent circular causality of complex biological phenomena in development and carcinogenesis.

    • The aging of the 2000 and 2011 Hallmarks of Cancer reviews: A critique

      Carlos Sonnenschein Ana M Soto

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      Two review articles published in 2000 and 2011 by Hanahan and Weinberg have dominated the discourse about carcinogenesis among researchers in the recent past. The basic tenets of their arguments favour considering cancer as a cell-based, genetic disease whereby DNA mutations cause uncontrolled cell proliferation. Their explanation of cancer phenotypes is based on the premises adopted by the somatic mutation theory (SMT) and its cell-centered variants. From their perspective, eight broad features have been identified as so-called ‘Hallmarks of Cancer’. Here, we criticize the value of these features based on the numerous intrinsic inconsistencies in the data and in the rationale behind SMT. An alternative interpretation of the same data plus data mostly ignored by Hanahan and Weinberg is proposed, based instead on evolutionarily relevant premises. From such a perspective, cancer is viewed as a tissue-based disease. This alternative, called the tissue organization field theory, incorporates the premise that proliferation and motility are the default state of all cells, and that carcinogenesis is due to alterations on the reciprocal interactions among cells and between cells and their extracellular matrix. In this view, cancer is development gone awry.

    • Competing views on cancer

      Carlos Sonnenschein Ana M Soto Annapoorni Rangarajan Prakash Kulkarni

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      Despite intense research efforts that have provided enormous insight, cancer continues to be a poorly understood disease. There has been much debate over whether the cancerous state can be said to originate in a single cell or whether it is a reflection of aberrant behaviour on the part of a ‘society of cells’. This article presents, in the form of a debate conducted among the authors, three views of how the problem might be addressed. We do not claim that the views exhaust all possibilities. These views are

      the tissue organization field theory (TOFT) that is based on a breakdown of tissue organization involving many cells from different embryological layers,

      the cancer stem cell (CSC) hypothesis that focuses on genetic and epigenetic changes that take place within single cells, and

      the proposition that rewiring of the cell’s protein interaction networks mediated by intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) drives the tumorigenic process.

      The views are based on different philosophical approaches. In detail, they differ on some points and agree on others. It is left to the reader to decide whether one approach to understanding cancer appears more promising than the other.

    • In search of principles for a Theory of Organisms

      Giuseppe Longo Maël Montévil Carlos Sonnenschein Ana M Soto

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      Lacking an operational theory to explain the organization and behaviour of matter in unicellular and multicellular organisms hinders progress in biology. Such a theory should address life cycles from ontogenesis to death. This theory would complement the theory of evolution that addresses phylogenesis, and would posit the oretical extensions to accepted physical principles and default states in order to grasp the living state of matter and define proper biological observables. Thus, we fanout adopting the default state implicit in Darwins theory, namely, cell proliferation with variation plus motility, and a framing principle, namely, life phenomena manifest themselves as non-identical iterations of morphogenetic processes. From this perspective, organisms become a consequence of the inherent variability generated by proliferation, motility and self-organization. Morphogenesis would then be the result of the default state plus physical constraints, like gravity, and those present in living organisms, like muscular tension.

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