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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory researchers race against time to save Tasmanian devils
Date:1/28/2008

A delegation of Tasmanian government officials traveled halfway around the world to visit Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), to lend their support and extend their gratitude for research aimed at understanding a unique transmissible and rapidly spreading cancer that threatens the very existence of Tasmanian devils. To combat this particularly aggressive disease, a CSHL research team in collaboration with 454 Lifesciences is committing resources to sequence parts of the devils genome in an effort to increase the odds of saving them from extinction.

In 1996 scientists first discovered the facial tumors on Tasmanian devils. Subsequent research revealed that the cancer is transmitted from one devil to another when tumor cells are transplanted through fighting, biting, and other physical contact. Once afflicted with the cancer, aggressive tumors begin to appear on the face and neck of the devils, restricting their ability to eat. Within approximately three months, the devils succumb to the disease and often die of starvation. The disease has decimated the devil population by nearly 90 percent in certain geographical areas of Tasmania, and officials project that within twenty years the entire species could become extinct.

The process by which the disease spreads among the devils has only been seen once before and represents a new field in cancer biology. Inbreeding in wild populations may prevent the devils immune system from recognizing the cancer as foreign, allowing the cancer to be transmitted. To provide an alternate fate for the devils, the Tasmanian government will have an insurance population of more than two hundred devils in quarantined facilities before the end of 2008.

The CSHL research team, led by researcher and native Tasmanian Elizabeth Murchison, Ph.D., aims to understand how the tumors work at a molecular level by sequencing the genes expressed in the devils tumor. As part of the delegations visit, CSHL researchers pres
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Contact: Jim Bono
bono@cshl.edu
516-367-8455
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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