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Hope for Tasmanian Devil Survivors of Deadly Cancer November 16, 2012
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Tasmanian devil suffering from Devil Facial Tumour Disease, which is nearly always fatal.
A form of contagious cancer that has killed more than 100,000 of Australia’s iconic Tasmanian devils may be evolving into a more benign pathogen, researchers say.

The disease emerged in rogue cell lines more than 15 years ago. It causes facial tumors that are nearly 100 percent fatal and threaten to drive the animal to extinction.

Desperate measures to save the uninfected animals in the wild from Devil Facial Tumour Disease have included plans to build a fence across parts of Tasmania.

University of Sydney researcher Kathy Belov writes in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that “the cancer is changing and evolving.”

She and her colleagues have found that the tumor is evolving differently in different areas of the island.

“What we’re seeing is that over time more genes are being switched off in the cancer,” says Belov.

But she cautions that it's too early to say how this may help the species to survive.

Photo: File