Tumour evolution depends on heritable differences between cells in traits affecting cell survival or replication. It is well established that cancer cells are genetically and phenotypically heterogeneous; however, the extent to which this phenotypic variation is heritable is far less well explored. Here, we estimate the broad-sense heritability (H2) of two cell traits related to cancer hallmarks––cell motility and generation time––within populations of four cancer cell lines in vitro and find that motility is strongly heritable. This heritability is stable across multiple cell generations, with heritability values at the high end of those measured for a range of traits in natural populations of animals or plants. These findings confirm a central assumption of cancer evolution, provide a first quantification of the evolvability of key traits in cancer cells and indicate that there is ample raw material for experimental evolution in cancer cell lines. Generation time, a trait directly affecting cell fitness, shows substantially lower values of heritability than cell speed, consistent with its having been under directional selection removing heritable variation.
Wass, A., Butler, G., Taylor, T., Dash, P., & Johnson, L. (2020). Cancer cell lines show high heritability for motility but not generation time. Royal Society Open Science, 7(4), . https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.191645