Weekly Roundup 14

Now I have a story to tell you: President Kennedy famously said “before this decade is out we will land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth,” and of course in 1969 the United States achieved that goal and and landed three astronauts on the moon. Now Kennedy wasn’t the president at this point; it was instead President Nixon who received the phone call sent from the moon straight to the oval office. Now with America’s decadal achievement complete Nixon wanted something equally impressive to announce and so he declared a “war on cancer,” as his goal. Now skip on fifty years and there has been no noticeable decrease in the number of people getting cancer. Cancer Research UK has taken a very positive outlook with the now famous quote “for the first time more people are surviving cancer than dying of cancer,” which isn’t really true. The way they define “surviving cancer” is that you are still alive ten years after you get diagnosed. With better screening techniques cancer is of course diagnosed earlier and earlier and so it easier for people to live past the ten year limit and so people can say they survived it. The truth is in 90% of cases when you have cancer you die of cancer, sooner or later. Of course this is where physicists come in. Since biologists were making slow progress in the realm of oncology some physicists were asked what they could work out and about five years ago they came up with a theory. Originally all life was single celled and floated around in the primordial ocean minding its own business,  but then two of these microorganisms stuck together and realised they were better at surviving together than alone. Soon you had massive groups of bacteria acting as one organism but this was quite inefficient so one bacteria in the group evolved to release chemicals to limit the abilities of the others. Now 3.5 billion years later you have humans and what is really important is not what is working but what is switched off. Every cell in our bodies contain the full DNA sequence but inhibitors stop these cells acting on this so a liver cell doesn’t decide to be a muscle, or a brain cell to be a blood cell. Now if the inhibitors get damaged (through radiation lets say) then you have a rogue cell acting more like the progenitor bacteria than part of your body. This is why tumours produce their own blood vessels, antibodies and enzymes. This theory was told unfortunately by some very arrogant physicists who very kindly told the biologists they’d been wasting forty years of their time. Biologists weren’t too happy with this and pointed out floors in the physicists argument and the two groups still don’t see eye on the matter to this day.


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