Origin of Cancer in Tasmanian Devil Identified

Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, Taranna, Tasmania. Image credit: Wayne McLean

The origins of a facial cancer that has killed 60% of the Tasmanian Devil population since 1996 have been discovered by researchers working to save the species.  Know as devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) the tumors were initially assumed to be caused by a virus that was spread through bites.  But, researchers were unable to identify a virus.  A 2007 study found that the cancer cells from different animals shared genetic markers that were otherwise not found in the animals themselves.   The current study builds on this research, tracing the origins of these shared genetic markers.  The new research indicated that a single Schwann cell, a type of nerve cell, in a single animal was the origin of DFTD.

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