Next week is the last teaching week of this semester. I have been revising almost from scratch both of my second year courses, which at times has taken most of my waking moments. Most of my teaching is this semester, so I have been crazy busy. But I have had time to add a small new bit to my final-year biological physics course. This is on the fact that many aspects of our bodies, and the diseases that afflict them, are controlled not by a single gene, but by many.
This is an update on last week’s post on a paper on cancer by Tomasetti and Vogelstein. Fur has flown over this paper, in particular with some of the media coverage. There was an interesting, and angry, article in The Guardian, and remarkably an arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO) produced a press release on the paper. They were not impressed. And journalists reflected on their coverage of the article. It was all go.
This is the message of a paper by Tomasetti and Vogelstein, that came out last week. Unlike a lot of papers in Science it is beautifully written, with a simple idea and a clear message. They start with the simple observation that some cancers are much much more common than others. For example, the American figures they quote give a lifetime risk of cancer of the colon of 5%, and risk of bone cancer of the pelvis of 0.0003%. Why the difference?