For hundreds of years the Scottish Highlands have resounded to the names of their famous clans: MacDonald, Campbell, Fraser, and many more. Each clan is a complex, branching family tree, starting from a single person but evolving over the years into a plethora of related but distinct groups.
Trying to untangle the different branches of a clan is a complicated and painstaking job for genealogists, poring over detailed histories and dusty parish records. But the family trees they construct from this information reveal the story of a clan’s evolution over time.
Now Charles Swanton and his team at the Francis Crick Institute, funded by Cancer Research UK, have carried out a similar painstaking analysis of data from more than 2,500 cancers, covering nine different tumour types.
Their study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, reveals the genetic relationships between different groups of cancer cells within an individual tumour, shedding light on the evolutionary processes at work as cancer grows and spreads within the body and how we might harness them to treat the disease more effectively in future.