Tasmanian Devils’ Contagious Cancers Sequenced for First Time; Detailed Genetic Map Pinpoints Tumors’ Origins, and Hints at Their Future Evolution

For three decades, Tasmanian devils have battled contagious facial cancers that result in debilitating tumors. Now, a comprehensive genetic analysis of these cancers has tracked their evolution, offering clues about how they could spread in future. The study, published on April 20 in Science, offers some of the first detailed insights into how the diseases emerged, evolved, and spread. This lays the groundwork for modelling how scientists might affect Tasmanian devil populations in future, says Janine Deakin, PhD, a genomicist at the University of Canberra. “Looking at the genomics does give us that insight into the past as well as potentially into the future,” says Dr. Deakin. “We need to understand the enemy that we’re working with.” The Science article is titled “The Evolution of Two Transmissible Cancers in Tasmanian Devils.”

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