Research published online on May 10, 2017 in Ecology Letters, shows that Tasmanian devils that catch devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) have higher survival and reproductive rates prior to disease-induced death than individuals that do not become infected. The article is titled “Infection of the Fittest: Devil Facial Tumor Disease Has Greatest Effect on Individuals with Highest Reproductive Output.” Typically infectious diseases affect mostly older, younger, or less healthy individuals. However, a team of scientists from Australia and the US, led by Dr. Konstans Wells of Griffith's Environmental Futures Research Institute (EFRI), found that devils with higher fitness are at highest risk of infection and death from facial tumors. Dr. Wells said this was probably because of the disease's mode of transmission among socially dominant individuals. "It's an important finding, as it indicates that the fittest devils, which are the ones typically engaging in mating or aggressive behavior, are at highest risk to acquire tumors," he said. Devil facial tumor disease - a proliferating cell line that grows into deadly tumors - is among only a few known cases of transmissible cancer and is believed to be transmitted when devils bite each other. Ten years of intensive field surveys of devils collected by study authors Dr. Rodrigo Hamede and Associate Professor Menna Jones of the University of Tasmania, combined with a novel statistical modelling approach to assess infection dynamics and tumor growth, led to the findings.
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