Shedding light on devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), a new study has found that this communicable cancer has been spotted in eight Tasmanian devils across southeastern Tasmania. The diseases was first discovered in 1996 when it had brought the species to the brink of extinction notwithstanding efforts put in for their captive breeding and preparing an effective vaccine.
These devils are iconic marsupial carnivores native to the Australian island state of Tasmania. The DFTD leads to the formation of tumors in and around the Tasmanian devil's mouth, making it difficult for the animals to eat and, as a result, they die of starvation. The disease can be transmitted through bites, sharing food or eating infected carcasses. Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) bite each other quite often during mating and feeding.
Dr. Elizabeth Murchison from the University of Cambridge, who is a senior author of the study, said, "Until now, we've always thought that transmissible cancers arise extremely rarely in nature, but this new discovery makes us question this belief".
Dr. Ruth Pye, first author of the new study from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania, said the tumors caused on the face are outwardly indistinguishable from the previously discovered cancer.