Transmissible Cancer In Tasmanian Devils

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How does transmissible cancer in Tasmanian Devils affect their population?

Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) are the largest population of marsupials to be found on earth due to the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacine). During the 1940’s the Devil species became protected due to large numbers being killed as a form of pest control. The protection of the Tasmanian devil was important as they are crucial to the ecosystem of Tasmania (live science Tasmanian Devils' Mysterious Cancer May Come in Two Varieties). The protection of the devils was necessary as the population have low genetic variability and a history of genetic bottlenecks making them more susceptible to drastic population declines caused by various abiotic …show more content…

Transmissible cancers are rare and only 2 other forms of cancer are known to be transmissible, the canine transmissible venereal tumour (CTVT) and marine bivalve cancer (nature communications). Transmissible cancers act differently to other cancers. This is because transmissible cancers are spread between individuals of a population through direct contact, much like how a disease is spread. Whereas other cancers are caused by a mutation causing uncontrolled cell division resulting in a tumour. DFTD is spread throughout the devils by direct contact, most commonly biting. The cancer is mainly spread during fights for mates, food and land however some are spread during mating itself (pnas). Bites between the devils enable a living cancer cell to be transferred between the individuals therefore colonising another host (UOC). DFTD was found to originate from a female host that carried a mutation in a nerve cell. Once transmitted the cancer cell causes tumours to grow on the face and inside the mouth area of the devil, once they reach a certain size they cause the devil’s to starve to their death due to not being able to eat as a result of the size of the tumour (live science Devilish). DFTD has spread to cover almost all the populations of Tasmania causing the population of Tasmanian devils to drop by 95% since discovering the disease (nature

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