A new type of transmissible cancer has been detected in eight Tasmanian devils. Already, earlier transmissible cancer has decimated the population of Tasmanian devils since 1996. Discovery of second transmissible cancer started in 2014.
At that time, a Tasmanian devil with facial tumors was found in south-east Tasmania. Though the outward appearance of the tumor was akin to those caused by the first type of Tasmanian devil transmissible cancer, upon assessment cancer was found to be having different chromosomal rearrangements and was genetically different.
Tasmanian devils are iconic marsupial carnivores that are only found in the wild on the Australian island state of Tasmania. They are of the size of a small dog and are known to be ferocious and frequently being bitten by each other during activities like mating and feeding.
In 1996, researchers observed Tasmania devils in the north-east of the island with tumors that have badly affected their face and mouth. The researchers then found that the tumors were contagious between devils and spread by biting.
The cancer spreads in the entire body of the animal and it leads to death of an animal that exhibits symptoms within months. Since its discovery, the first type of cancer has spread extensively in Tasmania and led to alarming decline in the population of the devils. The species was listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2008.
Two other forms of transmissible cancer have been found in dogs and soft-shell clams. Researchers led by the University of Tasmania, Australia, and the University of Cambridge, UK, has discovered the second, genetically distinct transmissible cancer in Tasmania devils.
Study’s lead researcher Dr Ruth Pye from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania said, “The second cancer causes tumours on the face that are outwardly indistinguishable from the previously-discovered cancer. So far it has been detected in eight devils in the south-east of Tasmania”.