Friday, November 21, 2008

Is it the end of the Tasmanian devil?

Many elements contribute to the extinction of a species, however until recently, cancer has yet to be one of them.
A special mutation of cancer has been discovered among the Tasmanian devil that threatens their existence. While cancer in humans can not be transmitted, the form of cancer discovered among these species is passed from one individual to another during their mating ritual, in which they bite each other in the face. Since they are an inbred species, this makes them more susceptible to disease and viruses.
A recent breakthrough by an associate professor of immunology at Menzie's Research institute in Hobart, Tasmania. According to a recent experiment, one devil has been able to develop an immune response to the tumor.
Part of the problem lies with the fact that the devils' body doesn't detect the tumor cells as foreign and therefore doesn't combat them.

This article raises a concern for humans as well.
As a society that uses various carcinogenic chemicals in our daily life, we are more prone to cancer than most species, however so far we can control our predisposition to developing cancer by improving our diet, not smoking and other measures to limit the probability of developing cancer. But what would happen to us if cancer in humans mutated in the same way and a kiss or drinking from the same cup would infect us with a tumor that would unleash a pandemic?

Click to see full article

-Noam

25 Comments:

At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very interesting. So is the Tasmanian devil a very small population anyway, since it is an inbred species. Also, it is kind of scary hearing about a cancer that can be transmitted through a mating ritual, not through genetics or smoking, drinking, etc. It would be very odd if something like that mutated into the human population. I wonder how this cancer evolved in order to do that. So only one devil has evolved immunity to the cancer, but that immunity could be passed on to other generations, if there was any left to begin with, and then eventually it may pass through, or they may go extinct. Crazy.

Katie Cole

 
At 5:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

very interesting, i like that you went into how it could affect humans as well. I didnt realize that the tasmanian devil population was so low. so they are more suseptable becuase their bodies dont recognize the cancer soon, or is it just that the cancer has changed/ maybe i missed that. nice article.

Erica Damon

 
At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article. How is the cancer found in the Tasmanian devil similar to that of humans?
-Sasha Rogers

 
At 6:13 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I wonder about this cancer in these little devils, i worry that it may someday jump a species barrier and become a new cancer in humans like what you were talking about at the end of your blog and cancer being basically a sexually transmitted disease, but more dramatic. Could this be a possibility.

Jennifer Smith (10)

 
At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it possible that the Tasmanian devil can possibility be extinct? How did researchers go about finding that only one Tasmanian is immune to the cancer?

- David Huynh

 
At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That cancer could possibly be transmitted is a very scary thought. I didn't know tasmanian devils were an inbred species, is it just because the populations are too small? Doesn't inbreeding lead to sterile offspring and eventual extinction anyway?

-Jane de Verges

 
At 6:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This article is really interesting, you should mention in your follow up a little about the cancer itself, such as how it has no MHC markers, meaning the devil's body is unable to recognicze the tumor as foreign. It's also interesting how the devils from western Tazmania are able to respond to the vaccine more effectively then those from eastern Tazmania due to greater genetic diversity.
-Corinne Delisle

 
At 7:27 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Being that the cancer is transmitted by blood (i'm assuming) is must be something IN the blood that it triggering cancer. Do you know exactly what it might be that could be transferred? I can't imagine that it would be viral or bacterial. I would think that it is a protein that either triggers out of control cell growth or an inhibitor protein that inhibits the detection of foreign proteins. I do you think the fact that they are inbreed and share more DNA could be a factor in the inability of detecting it as foreign?

-Amanda Sceusa

 
At 9:35 PM, Blogger Dan said...

Nice article, its interesting that their cancer can be transmitted whereas ours cannot. How is the cancer in the Tasmanians different from the type of cancer found in humans that makes transmission from one host to another possible?

~Dan Hong

 
At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting,I don't think anyone would have guessed that cancer could be transmitted just through physical contact. The cancer found in the Tasmanian Devil is truly a rarity. What is the life expectancy for a Tasmanian devil with this cancer?

- Debbie Theodat

 
At 10:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is pretty scary, to think that cancer could someday be contagious. I never even considered this thought before reading this article. I wonder if this is the case in any other species or just the Tasmanian devil, it seems probable. How can we stop this?

-Julie Riley

 
At 11:24 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Good article. I was aware before reading this that Tasmanian devils were already an endangered species as far as I know they are only found on the island of Tasmania. I wonder if the cancer is actually being spread through their saliva? Did the one devil that was able to develop an immune response do so on it's own? I wonder if the Tasmanian devil population is small enough that that a vaccination could be produced to help save this species.

Posted by: Lindsay Goodyear

 
At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow that is scary. I wonder how did cancer even got introduce to Tasmanian devil species. So I was wondering if Natural Selection would take place to the Tasmanian devil species, because if one of the Tasmanian has developed an immune response then would that Tasmanian’s offspring be the only one that would survive. But I think in case of humans STD is similar to Tasmanian’s cancer its. I mean STD is also passed thought “mating”. Lol.. But hopefully it wouldn’t escalade so much that just drinking in the same cup would infect us.

Tenzing Y. Dundutsang.

 
At 11:35 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Interesting article,
I am curious if the fact that the cancer was transmitted between the species of devils, is it possible that this is becuase the populations are very small and there isn't much variation within it? In the human populations, there is much more genetic variability. is this thought process correct?


Ahmed Sandakli

 
At 11:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the tasmanian devil which has developed an immune response mean that they have devoloped a way of fighting off this cancer? Will this mutation spread or is it an isolated case? Also is this mutation just being studied in the lab or was in intentionally created there?

-Alex Jackson

 
At 11:39 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Interesting I wonder if they are continueing research on the devil who was resistent to the tumor and if they have made any progress.

Charles Scondras

 
At 12:05 AM, Blogger PWH said...

Interesting article. It is very bizarre that cancer in Tasmanian devils can spread from individual to individual. Is this the first time this has been observed? Is it because they are a inbreed species that they are more susceptible to developing and passing on this cancer. Isn’t this mating ritual an evolved trait? So why is it that these Tasmanian devils are developing cancer now? Nice write up.

-Carlos Varela

 
At 12:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lets hope cancer cannot be transmitted so easily, or we would have an epidemic. The Tasmanian devils genetic makeup makes it susceptible to the tumors, but it is actually contracted from bites? It would be interested to produce a litter through artificial insemination, and observe the probability of cancer among them to see what role genetics plays in this disease.

-Stephen Lee

 
At 1:17 AM, Blogger PWH said...

It's pretty scary to even imagine if cancer-"epidemic" were to break out among humans. Thank God that the mutation for cancer cannot be passed from one individual to another in humans. Now, if the mating ritual was the reason for the spread of the cancer, has there been any attempts in breeding a large population of Tasmanian Devils that develop immune response to the Tumor?

-Kiel Boutelle

 
At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, where did the cancer originate? Are humans somewhat responsible for this because of carcinogens we expose the environment to?

Michele Copeland

 
At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very very interesting article. I really like how you ended the article with a thought related to us humans. It is extremely frightening to think about cancer spreading in such a way within the human population. Is there any sign of finding a cure for the cancer killing so many of the Tasmanian devils?

Tazneena Ishaque

 
At 8:20 PM, Blogger PWH said...

That would be pretty bad if it mutated like you said. However, at the rate technology and medicine is devoloping I have confidence we will find a cure. Heres a Question, If they know that Tasmanian devils naturally do not have the genetics to fight off cancer than scientist must know of species that do have the genetics to fight off cancer. Is there a lot of research being done on these animals?

Patrick Salome

 
At 11:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is a sad story. i accurately watched a television show about this topic and the tourers are very grose looking.

-Matthew Sousa

 
At 11:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

- UPDATE -
The devil that was immune to the cancer was found almost by accident. A researcher injected two devils from two different "families" with a specimen. While one of them developed an immune response, the other's body did not recognize it as foreign and it developed into a tumor that eventually took that devil's life. At the moment, other devils are being tested and the current hypothesis is that one of the families is still able to recognize the tumor as foreign. In that case, I believe that it is the Tasmanian government's intention to use that family to prevent the species from becoming extinct.

Happy Thanksgiving!
-Noam Pelleg
11/25/08

 
At 5:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I didn't realize that this kind of thing was able to be studied in such a small population. I also liked how you tied the research into how humans are affected.

Allison Gamelli

 

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