Scientists have discovered a second transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devils. The discovery has raised questions over current understand of the processes that make cancers to be transmissible. Since 1996, a transmissible cancer that spreads by biting has destroyed the population of the Tasmanian devils.
Transmissible cancers are the ones that can spread between individuals by the transfer of living cancer cells. Tasmanian devils are quite rare marsupial carnivores as they are just found in the wild on the Australian island state of Tasmania.
In 1996, researchers noticed the species of the size of a small dog in the north-east of the island being affected with tumors. The tumors had destroyed their face and mouth. It did not take much time for the scientists to recognize that the tumor was contagious between devils and spread through biting. The disease then spreads rapidly throughout the animal’s body and causes the animal’s death within months of the appearance of symptoms.
The disease since then has spread through most of Tasmania and led to a significant decline in the devil population. In 2008, the species has been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
As per the researchers, only two forms of transmissible cancer have been found in dogs and in soft-shell clams. Transmissible cancer has a different case as they take place when cancer cells gain the ability to spread beyond the body of the host by transmitting of cancer cells to new hosts.
Study’s first author Dr Ruth Pye from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania said that it is now that they have found a second, genetically different transmissible cancer in Tasmania devils.
The discovery has made them think that if Tasmanian devils are especially vulnerable to development of this disease of transmissible cancers are not as rare as they used to consider. In 2014, the discovery of transmissible cancer started in 2014 when a devil with facial tumors was found in south-east Tasmania. Though akin to first type of tumor, it was having different chromosomal rearrangements and genetically different.