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  • Scientific
  • Eye Opening
  • Visionary


The diversity of genetic sequences within an individual tumor has been a bane to oncologists, making it difficult to know which mutations are important and should be targeted. To evolutionary biologist Jeffrey Townsend and coworkers from Yale School of Public Health and Yale School of Medicine, this diversity of sequences held valuable information. Through sequence analysis they found that metastases do not arise late in tumor development, as had been assumed previously. Rather they can arise randomly from a primary tumor. Townsend’s article will captivate readers curious about how looking at data through a new lens can yield clinically relevant results.

About the Author

Jeffrey P. Townsend is an associate professor of biostatistics at the Yale School of Public Health and of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University.



Evolutionary trees reveal the relationships between organisms, or cells, by tracking the divergence between their genetic sequences.

Molecular evolutionary trees compare DNA sequences to see how they diverge from each other. Evolutionary biologists usually employ such trees to track how organisms are related to one another: How humans are related to other primates, how primates are related to other mammals and how mammals are related to other animals. Usually, evolutionary trees rely on DNA from organisms that are not extinct and try to extrapolate back to an ancient and unknown common ancestor.

Now that the technology and computing power enables scientists to sequence the DNA of many cells, Townsend and coworkers had the insight to apply this evolutionary paradigm to primary tumor cells and secondary tumor...

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