Genome Reveals How Tasmanian Devil Cancer Spreads
Tasmanian Devil Facial Cancer: New Clues for Saving the Devils
The Tasmanian devils have been decimated by a contagious facial cancer that threatens the species' very existence.
An article published in Cell outlines how the facial cancer (DFTD: devil facial tumor disease) is spreading via live cells from a Tasmanian-devil Patient Zero. All of the facial tumors found in the Tasmanian devil population contain this female devil's DNA: co-author Elizabeth Murchison calls her "the immortal devil".
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Now the mutations in those cells can be cataloged, which could guide the way for targeted cancer drugs that could save the Tasmanian devils.
Below is a summary of the article:
The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), the largest marsupial carnivore, is endangered due to a transmissible facial cancer spread by direct transfer of living cancer cells through biting. Here we describe the sequencing, assembly, and annotation of the Tasmanian devil genome and whole-genome sequences for two geographically distant subclones of the cancer. Genomic analysis suggests that the cancer first arose from a female Tasmanian devil and that the clone has subsequently genetically diverged during its spread across Tasmania. The devil cancer genome contains more than 17,000 somatic base substitution mutations and bears the imprint of a distinct mutational process. Genotyping of somatic mutations in 104 geographically and temporally distributed Tasmanian devil tumors reveals the pattern of evolution and spread of this parasitic clonal lineage, with evidence of a selective sweep in one geographical area and persistence of parallel lineages in other populations.
Breeding pairs of Tasmanian devils are being brought to New South Wales as part of the Devil Ark program, to form a sort of Tassie-devil insurance population, in the event of a worst-case scenario in which the wild devils die out before a cure can be found.