Click here to learn more.
For those of us who grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons, Warner Bros.' character Taz, the omnivorous, whirling, swirling cartoon caricature of a Tasmanian devil, was a delight. Already long on the endangered species list, however, the real Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) now risks extinction because of a strange form of contagious cancer.
A carnivorous marsupial about the size of a small dog, the devil is found only on the island of Tasmania, located off the southeast coast of Australia. The disease, which was first documented in the 1990s, has been killing the animals at an alarming rate. It attacks young devils at 2 to 3 years of age — long before they have an opportunity to reproduce. In areas where the disease has been found, up to 90 percent of the population has been decimated. The devils' rapid decline has led to aggressive — but so far only marginally effective — efforts to save them.
We do not typically think of cancer as being contagious, but dogs, like the devil, suffer from a contagious canine tumor: transmissible venereal tumor, or TVT. The disease has been around for 11,000 years. Devil facial tumor, or DFT — the cancer affecting Tasmanian devils — emerged in 1996 and is believed to have decreased the number of devils in the wild by more than half, with extinction predicted by 2024 unless a cure is found. Devil facial tumor is highly metastatic and always fatal. The dog is more fortunate; its transmissible tumor spontaneously regresses, or disappears, and renders the dog permanently immune to the disease. If a TVT lesion should cause a dog problems, it can be successfully treated with chemotherapy.
Devil facial tumor arose in an unknown Tasmanian devil many generations ago. Scientists describe the cancer cells in both DFT and TVT as “clonal,” meaning that all the tumor cells are genetically identical, like maternal twins. However, the tumor cells differ vastly from normal cells. Normal Tasmanian devil cells have 13 chromosomes; devil facial tumor cells have 14 chromosomes. A similar situation exists in TVT in dogs. Normal dog cells have 78 chromosomes; TVT cells have 57 to 64 chromosomes.
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Thank you for subscribing to Petwire. Look for the latest newsletter each Wednesday.
Nindiri, a 7-year-old jaguar, proudly
carried her little bundle into her den to
meet the public at the San Diego…
Rescuers are using drones to locate and
help some of the Texas city’s estimated one million homeless dogs.
Before you buy chicks or ducklings for
your kids' Easter baskets, make sure you
know what you're getting yourself…
Dr. Marty Becker knows from experience
that it's hard to adjust to children leaving
home and taking family pets…
It’s more than just cute when your kitty
naps in a box — it’s an instinctive
behavior that’s hardwired in her…
The talented Sporting Group dogs will
impress you with their hunting skills and
win you over with their…
Our expert explains why the old formula
that one year of a dog's life equals seven
years of human life isn’t…
Want to find out how well your cat or dog is digesting his food? Well, our vet says the proof is in your pet's poop.
The active and playful Devon Rex’s high cheekbones and slender build make her look like a top feline model.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.