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Catching Cancer
  • Samuel Rutledge
Samuel Rutledge

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Tasmanian devils, the largest marsupial carnivores, have lived in relative isolation on the island of Tasmania. Consequently, there is limited genetic diversity within the devil population, reducing the population's overall fitness and making them more susceptible to the spread of infectious disease. In the past 30 years one such disease, a contagious cancer, has emerged posing an existential threat to the species. The cancer, devil tumor facial disease, is of non-viral origin and is spread by biting which has enabled it to disseminate throughout the devil population, in-and-between different geographic loci. Under this intense selective pressure an evolutionary arms race emerged between the contagious disease and the genetics of the devil host. Aided by the efforts of conscientious scientists there is now hope for the future of the Tasmanian devil population. Furthermore, the Tasmanian devil facial tumor has served as a case study in the value of interdisciplinary science, bringing together ecologists, immunologists, cell biologists, epidemiologists, and cancer biologist, all with the combined goal of saving the Tasmanian devil species.