A fatal contagious cancer is driving an entire species to extinction. Comparative genomics will unravel the origin and evolution of devil facial tumor disease (DFTD). The DFTD allograft arose from a Schwann cell in a female Tasmanian devil more than 15 years ago; since then, the tumor has passed through at least 100,000 hosts, evolving and mutating along the way. Tumor genome sequencing and molecular cytogenetic technologies now allow direct comparisons of candidate genes involved in tumorigenesis in human cancers. As a stable transmissible cancer, DFTD provides unique insights into cancer development, progression, and immune evasion and is likely to help increase our understanding of human cancer. In addition, these studies provide hope for discoveries of drug targets or vaccine candidates that will prevent the extinction of this iconic Australian marsupial.

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Lecture in Genomics and Human Genetics: Understanding Transmissible Cancer in Tasmanian Devils

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Author Katherine Belov discusses her article, including the origins of the Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD), a transmissible cancer that has already caused the disappearance of 85 percent of the species and could lead to its extinction in the wild within 25 years. She explains what is known of the tumor based on its genomics, why it is transmitted between animals without causing immune recognition in the devils, and what are the conservation efforts to save the species from extinction.

  • Article Type: Review Article
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