If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll probably ask you for a glass of milk. And then he’ll do a bunch of other stuff, and get thirsty. And if he gets thirsty, he’ll ask you for a glass of milk. And if he asks you for a glass of milk, chances are he’ll want a cookie to go with it.
I remember reading that book so much as a kid. I also remember being obsessed with Taz as well. Unfortunately, the rhyme doesn’t carry over. If you get too cuddly with Taz, he might pass on his contagious facial cancer. Fortunately, work published in Cell last week reveals the sequence of the Tasmanian devil genome and of its cancer to help understand why it may be so transmissible.
While you can breathe easy because it’s not actually transmissible to humans, this species is in danger of being wiped off the earth. Shame, they’re actually kind of cute. We’ll stick with this picture though – the tumors are pretty disturbing looking.
The work in this paper, led by first author Elizabeth Murchison of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, sequenced and compiled the Tasmanian devil genome as well as that of this cancer.
They’re able to learn a lot by analyzing the tumor sequence, such as the fact that this cancer dates back to one original female that the authors nicknamed “the immortal devil.” Also, the cancer genome contains around 17,000 mutations, which is high but not unheard of. They’re going to continue their analysis of the sequence to try to develop treatments and to learn what made this cancer become contagious.
Hopefully, that will shed some light on how to stop its transmission – and will allow us to be prepared in case something of this sort ever pops up in others species, namely our own. For now, my heart goes out to the poor little devils. Pun intended.
Thanks & Gig ‘Em.