Tasmanian devil could ‘coexist’ with deadly cancer: study

Sydney, Australia, June 21 (EFE).- The Tasmanian devil, a species that has seen its population drop by two-thirds in the last three decades due to the spread of facial cancer, could “coexist” with the disease due to the evolution of the tumor, a scientific study said Wednesday.

The research, published by the Australian University of Tasmania, said it is very “very unlikely” that the disease will kill this marsupial species, only found on the island of Tasmania in South Australia and with an estimated population between 10,000 and 25,000.

Rodrigo Hamede, main author of the study, said in a statement that despite the disease continuing to affect its population, the changes registered in cancer seem to have reached a kind of “evolutionary agreement to coexist.”

This stems from an investigation, which included scientists from Australia, France and the United States, which analyzed 159 tumor genomes from the population of these marsupials in West Pencil Pine, in the northwest of the island of Tasmania.

The scientists saw changes in the tumor’s genetic diversity that translated into a decrease in infection rates and a stabilization in the decline of the Tasmanian devil population, according to the study by the scientific journal Evolutionary Applications.

The scientists believe the evolution of the tumor could respond to changes in the lethality and transmission potency in the different variants of the cancer, a greater resilience in the organisms of the Tasmanian devils, or a combination of both.

Whatever the cause, the fact remains that tumors and their carriers “can coexist,” said Hamede, an expert at the University of Tasmania.

Despite the findings, Hamede said the populations affected by the tumor must be protected, as well as redouble efforts to eliminate other threats to the survival of Tasmanian devils such as the loss and fragmentation of their habitats, deaths on roads and genetic deterioration.

“Extinctions are rarely driven by a single factor, but rather act in synergy with other threatening processes,” the scientist said.

The Tasmanian devil, with the size of a small dog and a robust body, has been afflicted for decades with a contagious cancer that appears in the animal’s mouth and increases in size until it causes deformities that prevent it from eating.

The cancer spreads by direct transmission through bites inflicted on the face by these black-colored, large-fanged animals during fights, as well as during feeding and mating processes.

Tasmanian devils disappeared from the Australian mainland 3,000 years ago, largely as they fell prey to dingoes, an invasive species descended from the Asiatic wolf, although work is now underway to reintroduce them to the mainland. EFE


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