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Can New Species Evolve From Cancers? Maybe.

Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog.

The parasites called myxosporeans live in fish during one stage of their life and in aquatic worms during another. If a new theory is right, they had a bizarre origin: as a form of transmissible cancer that evolved into its own species of animal.Ivan Fiala

Aggressive cancers can spread so fiercely that they seem less like tissues gone wrong and more like invasive parasites looking to consume and then break free of their host. If a wild theory recently floated in Biology Direct is correct, something like that might indeed happen on rare occasions: Cancers that learn how to roam between hosts may gradually evolve into their own multicellular species. Researchers are now scrutinizing a peculiar group of marine parasites called myxosporeans to see whether they might be the first known example.

Even among microscopic parasites, myxosporeans are enigmatic. They were first discovered nearly two centuries ago, and more than 2,000 species are recognized today. Their complex life cycles make study particularly difficult: It wasn’t until the 1980s that scientists realized the ones found in fish were the same species as those found in worms, and not completely different classes of parasite. And while most

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