Devil cancer update

The devastating cancer spreading through the Tasmanian devil population has so far met resistance in at least one devil (Cedric), and possibly in his brother (Clinky).

Both were injected with dead tumours by scientists. Clinky produced no antibodies, but Cedric did and appears to have built-in defences against the mystery illness.

The experiments have now moved up a gear.

Researcher Alex Kriess says the pair have had live cancer cells inserted into their faces.

“They haven’t developed a tumour so far,” he said. “We injected very few cells so it might take a while until they develop anything that we can see.”

The next step is to see why Cedric may be resistant to the disease, which Jerry Coyne has deemed “can be regarded as a separate organism, genetically free to undergo independent evolution.” (The syntax is correct, but for clarity, it’s the disease that can be regarded as a separate organism.)

The most interesting aspect of all this is that Cedric comes from the side of the island not yet especially devastated by the disease. As more research is done, it will be interesting to find out if there is any sort of special history with cancer, even this specific cancer, that Cedric’s part of the island has had. That could be one driving cause behind the genetic difference to consider in addition to simple drift or geographical barriers.

Image via Jerry Coyne

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