Tasmanian genetics – part 2

Tasmanian Devils are now officially endangered as a result of a highly contagious facial cancer that has been sweeping across the island state amongst the population of these marsupials.

This is the first transmissable cancer known to medical science. While some viruses have been implicated as causal factors in the development of some cancers, this is the first time a cancer itself has been found to be transmitted by metastatic cells from one animal’s tumour to another individual.

The tumours are transmitted when one animal bites another – which apparently they do quite frequently – and then begin to grow aggressively. Eventually, they cause sufficient damage to the tissues of the facial skin and muscle that the animal cannot feed and starves to death.

It’s a pretty grim situation and zoologists are keen to isolate the remaining uninfected Devils to prevent the irretrievable decimation of the species.


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