Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Devil Facial Tumour Evolves to a More Deadly Form

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The tumours of the Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) at a population in north-western Tasmania have been changing and competing over the years to increase infection rates.

The findings, published in Proceedings B, indicate that future research efforts to fight the disease that is decimating the Tasmanian devil population will need to focus on the tumour and its ability to change, as well as on the devils and their genetics.

Researchers have been monitoring devils in north-western Tasmania for a decade, regularly taking tumour and blood samples every 3 months. It is the only site where the researchers have a long-term genetic and immunological data set of devils and tumours from the beginning of the DFTD epidemic outbreak.

Lead author Dr Rodrigo Hamede of The University of Tasmania said this research is the first solid evidence that tumour lineages are competing and having an effect on transmission. “The tumour is subject to changes for its own benefit rather than the devil’s benefit. The tumour is a living organism and wants to do whatever is best for itself.”

Hamede said that only 3 years ago the devil population they had been sampling had not declined, the disease prevalence was very low, and animals were surviving for quite a long time and dying from old age, not from DFTD. What changed recently?

“We were looking at the devils from...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.