Genome clue to aid Tasmanian devils
Scientists have mapped the genome of Australia’s endangered Tasmanian devil for the first time and found that deadly facial tumours attacking the species evolve very slowly, making it possible help might be found before the animals become extinct in the wild.
Scientists at Australian National University said that their discovery, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, could help untangle the process of how human cancers evolve.
Tasmanian devils are carnivorous marsupials the size of a small dog. The facial tumour disease has ravaged the wild population, confined to Australia’s island state of Tasmania, since being discovered in the mid-1990s. Scientists believe that unless help is found, the wild population could be extinct within several decades.
The researchers found that, at the genetic level, the tumours evolve very slowly, making it easier to study them – and, possibly, circumvent them.
In addition, this may offer an unusual chance to study how human cancers develop, team leader Janine Deakin added.
The Tasmanian devil tumour is spread by skin-to-skin contact and kills by deforming the animals, which then die through starvation or suffocation.
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