Cancer and Tasmanian Devils

July 5, 2011

The Philadelphia Inquirer

A cancer is sweeping through the population of Tasmanian devils, plaguing these small, carnivorous marsupials with tumors on their noses, eyes, and mouths. Working against the devils is a very limited gene pool. Individual devils are so genetically similar you could take a skin graft from one to another with no threat of rejection. That's why their immune systems don't recognize tumor cells from another devil as foreign. Some researchers have begun to see this cancer in terms of natural selection. As tumors make new cells with slight genetic variations, natural selection preserves those that can most readily thrive at their host's expense. Peter Nowell, MD, professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, noted this general idea in 1976, suggesting that the progression of precancerous growths into cancerous ones was a process of evolution by natural selection, as cited in a Philadelphia Inquirer column. In devils, cells have acquired a trick - they can jump from one animal to another... Read More