Ancient genes may explain modern threat to Tasmanian devils

Dec 05, 2012
Ancient genes may explain modern threat to Tasmanian devils
PhD researcher Katrina Morris: "It is well known that low genetic diversity is a major extinction risk factor, but when and how devils lost their immune diversity has remained a mystery until now."

(Phys.org)—Tasmanian devils had low immune gene diversity for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years before the emergence of Devil Facial Tumour Disease, researchers at the University of Sydney and University of Adelaide have discovered.

"Low immune gene diversity in modern devils has been linked to the spread and devastating impacts of (DFTD)," said senior author Katrina Morris, a PhD candidate at the University's Faculty of Veterinary Science and senior author of the study published in the journal Biology Letters today.

"It is well known that low is a major factor, but when and how devils lost their immune diversity has remained a mystery until now."

"Devils once lived across much of mainland Australia, but became extinct sometime in the last few thousand years," said Dr Jeremy Austin, from the Australian Centre for at the University of Adelaide.

"We looked at subfossil bones of these extinct mainland devils, as well as of Tasmanian devils collected over the last 200 years. They capture the genetic diversity of the past allowing us to see how the immune gene diversity has changed over thousands of years."

The genes the researchers studied included the oldest marsupial genes to have ever had their genetic code sequenced, taken from mainland devil specimens at least 3000 years old.

Surprisingly, the immune diversity in devils was low in all Tasmanian samples dating from the 1980s back to before European arrival in 1800. Mainland devils, isolated from the Tasmanian population by sea level rises at the end of the last ice age, also had low and very similar diversity to .

"Low immune diversity would have made devils susceptible to disease outbreaks," said Katrina Morris. "This may explain their history of population extinctions, population crashes and disease outbreaks in the 1800s and early 1900s."

Explore further: Study finds lasting severe weather impact in feathers of young birds

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 ...

Genetic safety in numbers, platypus study finds

May 18, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Platypuses on the Australian mainland and in Tasmania are fighting fit but those on small islands are at high risk of being wiped out from disease, according to a University of Sydney study.

Australia's devils to get fresh start on new island

Nov 14, 2012

A group of Tasmanian devils will be transferred to a small Australian island to start what is hoped will be a self-sustaining population, free from the facial tumour that has devastated their species.

Recommended for you

Bridge jumper says sea lion saved him

1 hour ago

A man who jumped off San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge to try to take his own life and was kept afloat by a sea lion said Wednesday suicide prevention was now his life's work.

Brazil receives macaw pair from Germany

1 hour ago

A pair of endangered blue macaws of the kind made famous by the hit animated "Rio" movies arrived in Brazil from Germany on Tuesday as part of a drive to ensure the bird's survival.

Study shows one reason why pigeons so rarely crash

17 hours ago

(Phys.org)—A pair of researchers with Harvard University has uncovered one of the secrets behind pigeons' impressive flight abilities. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of ...

Gold standard management of the diabetic cat

18 hours ago

The International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM), the veterinary division of International Cat Care, has convened an expert panel of veterinary clinicians and academics to produce practical guidance to ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.