While cooperation is common at many levels of life, ranging all the way from from micro-organisms to complex social structures, cooperative behaviors are fundamentally vulnerable to selfish defection. Hence, their prevalence in nature is often considered puzzling. In line with an expectation of prevalent defection, cancer can be interpreted as a disruption of cooperation within a multicellular organism, with tumor cells jeopardizing the multicellular common good through a process analogous to the tragedy of the commons well-known from resource economics. This analogy is enriched by the fact that, while defecting the host, tumor cells might cooperate at other levels, e.g., within the tumor or with its microenvironment, with such complexity also having natural counterparts in the social world. To study the evolution of multilevel cooperation and defection, we will apply the framework of adaptive dynamics theory. Concentrating on analogies between cancer and the social world, we will try to build a suitable encompassing model to capture key characteristics common to both types of organization. This multidisciplinary project integrates disciplines, from cell biology to ecology, social science, and mathematics, which we hope will provide new insights into oncogenesis as well as social systems.
Last edited: 24 March 2016
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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