Frank, S. A. 2016. Puzzles in modern biology. II. Language, cancer and the recursive processes of evolutionary innovation. F1000Research 5:2289.
Human language emerged abruptly. Diverse body forms evolved suddenly. Seed-bearing plants spread rapidly. How do complex evolutionary innovations arise so quickly? Resolving alternative claims remains difficult. The great events of the past happened a long time ago. Cancer provides a model to study evolutionary innovation. A tumor must evolve many novel traits to become an aggressive cancer. I use what we know or could study about cancer to describe the key processes of innovation. In general, evolutionary systems form a hierarchy of recursive processes. Those recursive processes determine the rates at which innovations are generated, spread and transmitted. I relate the recursive processes to abrupt evolutionary innovation.