Key to Duesberg's theory is that some initial chromosomal mutation perhaps impairing the machinery that duplicates or segregates chromosomes in preparation for cell division screws up a cell's chromosomes, breaking some or making extra copies of others. Normally this would be a death sentence for a cell, but in rare cases, he said, such disrupted chromosomes might be able to divide further, perpetuating and compounding the damage. Over decades, continued cell division would produce many unviable cells as well as a few still able to divide autonomously and seed cancer.
Duesberg asserts that cancers are new species because those viable enough to continue dividing develop relatively stable chromosome patterns, called karyotypes, distinct from the chromosome pattern of their human host. While all known organisms today have stable karyotypes, with all cells containing precisely two or four copies of each chromosome, cancers exhibit a more flexible and unpredictable karyotype, including not only intact chromosomes from the host, but also partial, truncated and mere stumps of chromosomes.
"If humans changed their karyotype the number and arrangement of chromosomes we would either die or be unable to mate, or in very rare cases become another species," Duesberg said. But cancer cells just divide and make more of themselves. They don't have to worry about reproduction, which is sensitive to chromosomal balance. In fact, as long as the genes for mitosis are still intact, a cancer cell can survive with many disrupted and unbalanced chromosomes, such as those found in an aneuploid cell, he said.
The karyotype d
|Contact: Robert Sanders|
University of California - Berkeley