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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Tracking chromosome evolution in devil facial tumour disease Event

Associate Professor Janine Deakin
13:00 - 14:00
8 September 2014
Building 85, 2213

For more information regarding this event, please telephone Kim Lipscombe on 02830 59 7747 or email .

Event details

Tasmanian devils, the world’s largest living carnivorous marsupials, have experienced a turbulent history, becoming extinct on mainland Australia and surviving previous population crashes in Tasmania. Now their existence is being threatened by a contagious cancer, devil facial tumour (DFT) disease. The unusual feature of this disease is that the tumour cells themselves are the infectious agent, being spread when devils bite each other during social interactions.

The only other example of a transmissible tumour in the wild is canine transmissible venereal tumour (CTVT), which has been spreading through dogs for around 10,000 years. The most important difference between DFT and CTVT is that in most cases CTVT does not kill its host, with the tumour and host being able to co-exist in the population. Is there a chance that DFT could evolve to reach this more desirable scenario?


Wild Tasmanian Devil

The original DFT appears to have resulted from a shattering and rejoining of two chromosomes, followed by the accumulation of other structural mutations which resulted in the formation of several distinctive DFT marker chromosomes. By studying DFT chromosomes isolated from individuals from different geographical locations, it has been possible to trace the evolution of this tumour as it spreads through the population. This work has shown that the tumour is evolving, with potentially more and less virulent strains arising. I show that insight into the evolution of this infectious agent can be provided by comparing different DFT strains and help to determine whether there is a chance the tumour is evolving to a situation where devils will be able to survive DFT infections, permitting the survival of the population in the wild.


More information about Janine can be found here:

Speaker information

Associate Professor Janine Deakin,Centre for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Australia

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