Mystery of Tasmanian devil tumour deepens - for now

Jun 07, 2012
A Tasmanian devil with Devil Facial Tumour Disease. Credit: Rodrigo Hamede, University of Tasmania

(Phys.org) -- The degree of genetic difference to a tumor is not a factor in Tasmanian devils contracting the facial tumor disease, according to research led by the University of Sydney.

The finding, published today in PLoS One, the journal, surprised researchers and means they will take a different approach in the race to better understand the Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), a contagious cancer which has already wiped out 85 percent of all .

"We looked at the West Pencil Pine population, in north-western Tasmania because they are the first population to be less severely affected by DFTD than other populations," said Associate Professor Kathy Belov, the senior author of the study from the University's Faculty of Veterinary Science.

In West Pencil Pine there is lower prevalence of the disease, increased survival time of infected individuals and little indication of changes in or population growth rate, four years after the disease was first detected.

"We thought that differences in certain key immune genes might explain the different susceptibility patterns between devils in West Pencil Pine and other devils," Professor Belov said.

Due to devil populations having low most Tasmanian devils share the same Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) genes as tumours. The researchers believed that since the tumours were genetically similar to individual devil's own cells their immune system wouldn't recognise that the were foreign and wouldn't attack them.

"Many of the devils at West Pencil Pine are genetically different to the animals in the east of the state. We thought these genetically different animals might be able to mount an immune response against the tumours," Professor Belov said.

"We thought devils that were most genetically different to the tumours would be less likely to catch DFTD. This isn't the case."

The researchers will have to go back to the drawing board to try to work out why DFTD is affecting genetically different devils.

"It is possible the tumor itself is suppressing the immune response in some way. We also know that DFTD is evolving and changing over time. Perhaps the strain of DFTD in West Pencil Pine is different and that is why fewer animals are getting sick in that region," Professor Belov said.

The next step will be to look more closely at the tumors in West Pencil Pine and at across the entire devil genome, rather than simply focusing on the . West Pencil Pine may still hold the key to why some devils catch DFTD and others do not.

The other contributing authors to the paper include Dr Amanda Lane, Yuanyuan Cheng, Belinda Wright, Dr. Laura LeVan and Dr. Beata Ujvari from the University of Sydney and Dr. Menna Jones and Dr. Rodrigo Hamede from the University of Tasmania.

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Related Stories

Culling can't save the Tasmanian devil

Oct 04, 2011

Culling will not control the spread of facial tumour disease among Tasmanian devils, according to a new study published this week in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology. Unless a way ...

Sympathy for the devils

Oct 24, 2011

Better than sympathy, now there's hope for the devil -- the Tasmanian devil, that is.

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tthb
not rated yet Jun 07, 2012
maybe move a few up to a higher lat., . . .
tthb
5 / 5 (1) Jun 07, 2012
maybe it's too many of something else around, for what they ARE up to; God help them, too
Jonseer
1.7 / 5 (3) Jun 07, 2012
Typical of Australian efforts to "save" their unique wildlife. Dithering, unfocused in no hurry as the population dwindles. The sheer incompetence of their efforts is breathtaking. These assumptions are based on what? If they were so confident, why not try it in the lab, instead of allowing it to spread in the wild, then try to counter it after they start dying.
Sherrin
3 / 5 (2) Jun 08, 2012
Jonseer - just how much do you know of what is actually going on in the effort to save the Devil? Devils free of the disease are quarantined in various locations, with mainland sites being considered as well. Australian scientists are racing to find a solution, but science is poorly funded by Australian governments due to a lack of science-qualified politicians and a generally ignorant, self-interested public (I'm gettin' the latest iPhone mate; science is for nerds, etc etc).
dontknowmuch
not rated yet Jun 08, 2012
When I visited the Tasmania Zoo (near Launceston)last year, they told us all about their efforts ~ that they already have zones and habitats set up on the mainland as well, and that even with their best efforts- that they would still require around 20 ~30 per community to repopulate a pack, and at the moment they simply couldn't locate enough healthy ones to put in each separate zone- and that they ultimately expected them to be completely gone within five years.

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.