Genetic diversity, inbreeding and cancer
Genetic diversity is essential for adaptive capacities, providing organisms with the potential of successfully responding to intrinsic and extrinsic challenges. Although a clear reciprocal link between genetic diversity and resistance to parasites and pathogens has been established across taxa, the impact of loss of genetic diversity by inbreeding on the emergence and progression of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, has been overlooked. Here we provide an overview of such associations and show that low genetic diversity and inbreeding associate with an increased risk of cancer in both humans and animals. Cancer being a multifaceted disease, loss of genetic diversity can directly (via accumulation of oncogenic homozygous mutations) and indirectly (via increased susceptibility to oncogenic pathogens) impact abnormal cell emergence and escape of immune surveillance. The observed link between reduced genetic diversity and cancer in wildlife may further imperil the long-term survival of numerous endangered species, highlighting the need to consider the impact of cancer in conservation biology. Finally, the somewhat incongruent data originating from human studies suggest that the association between genetic diversity and cancer development is multifactorial and may be tumour specific. Further studies are therefore crucial in order to elucidate the underpinnings of the interactions between genetic diversity, inbreeding and cancer.