Tasmanian devils evolving to resist transmissable cancer

Sydney, Australia, Dec 11 (efe-epa).- Australia’s Tasmanian devils are evolving to resist a transmissable cancer, which was once predicted to lead to the extinction of the species, according to scientific study published Friday.

Over two decades, scientists from the University of Tasmania’s School of Natural Sciences undertook field research into the facial tumor disease, which reduced devil populations by 80 percent.

“In the early years of the epidemic we were very concerned for the future of the devil, however in the last few years our research has hinted that the devil is evolving resistance to the disease,” said Menna Jones, a professor at the University of Tasmania, in a statement.

The study found that the “devils’ pandemic is shifting from an emerging disease to an endemic one – meaning the disease spread is slowing to the point that each infected devil is infecting only one additional animal or less,” the university said in a statement.

“That means the devil will live with it as part of its normal life without this disease spelling the end,” added Jones, who helped establish the program to investigate this disease.

The tumors that affect Tasmanian devils, which often contract them through wounds suffered in fights with infected specimens, appear in the animal’s mouth and increase in size until they cause deformations that prevent them from eating.

The study, published in the scientific journal “Science,” recommends that wildlife managers should re-consider the practice of releasing captive-bred devils into the wild as that could be “harmful.”

“By introducing a whole bunch of genetically naïve individuals, they could breed with the wild individuals, basically mix up the gene pool and make it less well-adapted,” said Washington State University biologist and research team lead Andrew Storfer.

The study conclusion emerges from an investigation in which more than 11,000 genes from tumor samples were analyzed and it was found that genes “changed in a ‘clock-like’ manner, showing mutations that were accumulating rapidly.”

Tasmanian devils disappeared from mainland Australia 3,000 years ago, mostly falling prey to dingoes. EFE-EPA


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