BEACON TRANSCRIPT – When you think about the Tasmanian devil, you’re most likely thinking about Loony Tunes’ Taz. Loud, fast, and with an insatiable appetite, the creature looks nothing like its real life counterpart, although it does share the aforementioned similarities. Researchers were taken aback to find two contagious cancers affecting Tasmanian devil populations.
Generally, transmissible cancers are believed to be exceedingly rare in nature, with only three cases recoded prior to the discovery of this new one.
For cancer cells to jump hosts it takes a lot of time and resilience on the part of the cell, as it usually dies once leaving the host. Previous cases were found in dogs, in soft-shell clams, and in 1994, the first case of transmittable cancer was observed in Tasmanian Devils.
In the Australian marsupial, it was found that the cancer was transmittable via biting, and as Tasmanian devils are known for their habits of biting each other during mating, eating, and even playing, the cancer spread at a very fast rate throughout the animal population. It spread so fast, that the animal was declared an endangered species in 2008.
In 2014, however, scientists encountered a specimen with nearly identical tumors to those generated by the first cancer. Upon further, long-term examination, it was proven that the animal suffered from a different type of cancer, a second one, and that the disease had no relation to the first one.
In the meanwhile, 8 more specimens were confirmed to suffer from the new disease, which was so genetically different from the first one, that it even had different chromosome arrangements.
This baffled the scientists, as it is almost inconceivable for such a rare occurrence in nature to develop twice for the same species. Keep in mind that there used to be only 3 types of transmittable cancer, and now the fourth one is affecting one of the species that already had one.
So, the experts now have to reconsider everything they know about nature’s contagious cancers, as they cannot seem to find an explanation as to why a species would be particularly vulnerable to developing such a rare condition.
Multiple programs are funding the research, with multiple reasons.
First of all, the discovery is huge for the entire scientific world, as it turns on its head everything we know about cancer.
Last but not least, the Tasmanian devils are a very interesting species, and if another cancer epidemic were to befall them, they would almost undoubtedly go extinct.
Image source: Pixabay