Research highlight

Cancer: Evidence of evolving resistance to Tasmanian devil facial tumours

Nature Communications

August 31, 2016

Tasmanian devils may be evolving to resist an aggressive cancer known as devil facial tumour disease, reports a study published in Nature Communications this week.

The population of Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) has been reduced by more than 80% over the last two decades due to a transmissible cancer, devil facial tumour disease, which in most cases is fatal. Modelling of the disease has suggested that the animals would near extinction; however, in populations predicted to be extinct by now some animal are still present.

Andrew Storfer and colleagues studied the genetics of Tasmanian devils from multiple distinct geographic sites both before and after the disease presented. They found two genomic regions that differ in pre- and post-disease samples. Five of the seven genes in these regions are known to be associated with cancer and immune function in humans.

These findings suggest that Tasmanian devils, in a short period of time - between 4-6 generations - are rapidly evolving to resist devil facial tumour disease.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms12684

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