Monday, 5 September 2016

Tasmanian devil DNA shows signs of cancer fightback

By Jonathan Webb Science reporter, BBC News
30 August 2016

A genetic study of Tasmanian devils has uncovered signs that the animals are rapidly evolving to defend themselves against an infectious face cancer.

One of just three known transmissible cancers, this tumour has wiped out 80% of wild devils in the past 20 years.

Researchers looked at samples from 294 animals, in three different areas, before and after the disease arrived.

Two small sections of the devil genome appear to be changing very fast - and contain likely cancer-fighting genes.

The team, made up of US, UK and Australian scientists, described their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

They say the results offer much-needed hope that the species, which is unique to Tasmania, could survive the disease.

Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) was discovered in 1996 and kills nearly every devil it infects. Essentially a single tumour that jumps between hosts, it is transferred when the aggressive beasts bite each other's snouts.

Only two other infectious cancers are known to science. A similar tumour is shared between the genitals of dogs when they mate, and has traversed the globe since it originated 11,000 years ago; another was discovered in 2015 affecting clams on the US west coast.

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