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Scientists sequence endangered Tasmanian devil's genome
Date:6/27/2011

A revolutionary species-preservation approach based on whole-genome analyses of two Tasmanian devils -- one that had died of a contagious cancer known as Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) and one healthy animal -- has been used to develop a theoretical model to predict which individuals would need to be kept in captivity to maximize chances of preserving enough genetic diversity for the species to survive. The research helps to formulate one possible plan of action to prevent the extinction of the Tasmanian devil -- a marsupial found in the wild exclusively in the Australian island-state of Tasmania. The research model also may be extended to other endangered species. The team, led by Stephan Schuster, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State University; Webb Miller, a professor of biology and computer science and engineering at Penn State University; and Vanessa Hayes of the Venter Institute in San Diego, includes other scientists at institutions and universities in Australia, Denmark, and the United States. The results of the study will be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Additional information about the team's research is posted at the project website, http://tasmaniandevil.psu.edu.

DFTD, which disfigures the victim and causes death from starvation or suffocation within months, is an unusual sort of cancer that first was observed on the east coast of Tasmania just 15 years ago, and since has spread rapidly westward, threatening the species with extinction. "The disease is like nothing we know in humans or in virtually any other animal. It acts like a virus but it actually is spread by a whole cancerous cell that arose in one individual several decades ago," Schuster explained. "This malignant cell is transferred directly from one individual to another through biting, mating, or even touching. Just imagine a human cancer that spread thro
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Contact: Barbara Kennedy
science@psu.edu
814-863-4682
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert  

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Scientists sequence endangered Tasmanian devil's genome
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