Student Post: Cancer extinction looney tunes Tasmanian Devils
The tasmanian devil is most readily remembered by it’s cartoon character, however the extinction of the animal seems to be on the horizon. Tasmanian devils are wild animals of the Dasyuridae family found only in the wild of Australian island of Tasmania. Recently, it has been predicted that a facial cancer on the marsupial will extinct the species in the next ten years.
First reported in 1996, the parasitic tumor has declined the species by seventy percent. The onset of the non-viral tumor was caused by the environment of the animal (who live in high-density populations that suffer from invasions of nonnative species and pollution.) Devil facial tumor disease likely began in what are called Schwann cells. Schwann cells are found in the peripheral nervous system; they produce myelin and other proteins essential for the functions of nerve cells.
Scientists are trying to remedy the infectious disease by breeding a certain species of tasmanian devil that was shown to have a partial immunity to the tumor. After preliminary research on the disease, scientists have come to see that the answers to the tasmanian devil’s circumstance, if uncovered, could lead to answers for human cancers as well. More knowledge of the direction and rate of the tumor in devil populations will help scientists to find out more about how the disease spreads by examining the interactions between the animals. Scientists remain positive; Andrew Storfer, who works closely with the animals on location, says “the answers will help in developing responses to this and other disease outbreaks in Tasmanian devils–and potentially in people.”