CSIRO scientists join fight to save 'Tassie devil'

Jun 05, 2007

CSIRO scientists have joined the battle to save Australia’s iconic Tasmanian devils from the deadly cancer currently devastating devil populations.

Researchers from CSIRO’s Livestock Industries’ Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), Textiles and Fibre Technology and Land and Water, are working together to hunt down the cause of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) and possibly develop a test to identify infected animals.

DFTD is infectious and is thought to be passed between animals by biting when, for example, devils compete for food. Once the cancer becomes visible and spreads internally through the body, the animal usually dies within a few months from starvation and the breakdown of body functions.

The integrated research team at AAHL will use a variety of techniques including microscopy, microarrays and a range of molecular techniques to search for infectious agents, markers for disease and to determine where the tumours originate.

“We will be working in a number of areas including establishing whether a virus or other infectious agents are associated with the tumours,” AAHL’s Dr Alex Hyatt said. “If successful, the establishment of pre-clinical tests will allow researchers to remove known infected devils, in turn limiting the spread of the disease.”

To date AAHL scientists have processed and examined 29 lesions from 12 affected animals and have also collected and processed a further 30 affected animals where both tumour tissue and tumours grown in the laboratory were examined.

A recent Senior Scientist’s Scientific Forum on the DFTD reviewed progress in understanding and managing the disease and set an agenda for future research and management.

“The aim is to stop the disease in it tracks and we want to bring our experience of controlling infectious diseases to the research community involved to help achieve this,” Dr Hyatt said.

A chemist and Spectroscopist at CSIRO Textiles and Fibre Technology, Dr Jeff Church, is investigating the Tasmanian devil’s hair to determine if any chemical or structural changes can be detected that can be correlated with the disease.

“We are hoping we can work together to develop a pre-clinical diagnostic test based on recent developments in the diagnosis of human breast cancer,” Dr Church said. “Such a test would enable the screening of captured animals prior to their release into the wild or placement into isolated breeding populations.” Dr Church and his team will look to extend their work using the Australian synchrotron infrared beam line when it comes on-line later this year.

Steve Marvanek, Spatial Data Analyst at CSIRO Land and Water, integrated historical wildlife spotlight data, devil monitoring data and geo-referenced reports of diseased devils into a geographical information system (GIS) to map the spatial and temporal distribution of the disease across Tasmania.

“The result of my work was a map showing the spread of DFTD over time and some spatial statistics correlating the frequency of devils and diseased individuals with different landscapes or land uses,” Mr Marvanek said.

Dr Hyatt said helping the Tassie devil to survive the DFTD threat was crucial, not just because it is a major tourism attraction but also to ensure devils continue to play the vital role they have in maintaining Tasmania’s environmental balance.

Source: CSIRO Australia

Explore further: Bulletproof nuclei? Stem cells exhibit unusual absorption property

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Devil disease is immortal, new study finds

Aug 31, 2012

(Phys.org)—The outlook for Tasmanian devils appears even worse following breakthrough research by the University of Sydney published in PLoS One, today.

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

(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 ...

User comments : 0

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 ...

Growing app industry has developers racing to keep up

Smartphone application developers say they are challenged by the glut of apps as well as the need to update their software to keep up with evolving phone technology, making creative pricing strategies essential to finding ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.