Cells that protect nerves are the likely origin of the Devil Facial Tumour Disease DFTD that has been devastating Australia's Tasmanian devil population, an international team of scientists has discovered. It is spread by biting and quickly kills the animals. The disease is characterised by large tumours, mostly on the face and mouth, which often spread to internal organs. The research collaboration, led by Australian scientists, has found that DFTD originates from cells called Schwann cells, which protect peripheral nerve fibres. Through the discovery, the team has now identified a genetic marker that could be used to accurately diagnose the perplexing cancer, which has seen the devil listed as endangered and facing extinction.
Tasmanian Devils and Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD)
Tasmanian Devils May Be Adapting to Deadly Transmissible Cancer
The continent of Australia features some of the most fascinating and unique creatures in the world. For all the bouncing kangaroos and cuddly-looking koalas , however, the Tasmanian devil delights not so much in appearance as it does in reputation. Despite the species' tendency for ferocity what else would you expect from an apex predator? In fact, much effort has been expended in recent decades to keep that from happening. A few facts about these animals: Tasmanian devils used to be abundant in Tasmania and Australia, but about years ago, they became extinct on the Australian continent, probably due to dingoes.
Devil Facial Tumour Disease 2
Telomeres protect chromosomes from degradation during cellular replication. In humans, it is well-documented that excessive telomere degradation is one mechanism by which cells can become cancerous. Increasing evidence from wildlife studies suggests that telomere length is positively correlated with survival and health and negatively correlated with disease infection intensity. The recently emerged devil facial tumor disease DFTD has led to dramatic and rapid population declines of the Tasmanian devil throughout its geographic range. Here, we tested the hypothesis that susceptibility to DFTD is negatively correlated with telomere length in devils across three populations with different infection histories.
Amid the global COVID crisis, there is some good news about a wildlife pandemic -- which may also help scientists better understand how other emerging diseases evolve. Researchers have found strong evidence that a transmissible cancer that has decimated Tasmanian devil populations likely won't spell their doom. For the first time, a research team led by Washington State University biologist Andrew Storfer employed genomic tools of phylodynamics, typically used to track viruses, such as influenza and SARS-CoV-2 , to trace the Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease.