Tasmanian Devils Potentially Saving Themselves From Extinction, Have The Cure For Cancer?

First Posted: Aug 31, 2016 07:54 AM EDT

There are signs that Tasmanian devils are evolving fast and are defending themselves against an infectious facial cancer. This was according to a recent genetic study done on the animals. Predicted to be extinct due to a transmissible facial tumor, the animals seem to reverse such prediction and they are doing it quickly.

According to ABC, researchers found genetic changes associated with fighting cancer. It was a significant find according to Menna Jones, Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Tasmania. "The main result of this study is that the devil is evolving at a genomic level," she stressed. She also added that the regions in the mammals' DNA they found changing also involve those that are linked to immune function.

The abovementioned facial tumor, also called the Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) was discovered 20 years ago and has already wiped out 80 percent of the devil population; hence Tasmanian devils were predicted to be extinct. And while researchers expected the animals to build a resistance to cancer, they did not expect it to happen this quick. According to Professor Hamish McCallum of Griffith University in Queensland, the devils have low genetic diversity and they did not expect the evolution to rapidly take place.

Meanwhile, BBC reported that researchers aim to characterize certain genes in more detail. They suggest that there are things that could possibly help tackle human cancer or where the contagious cancers come from. Additionally, they want to know the common characteristics of these cancers and how they evolved to be transmissible.

The results of the study apparently give a little hope that the Tasmanian devils can indeed be saved and protected. "I think that's the only thing that can save the devils - that it'll save itself," Jones said. She also hopes the findings would give researchers a better understanding of cancers.

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