October 29, 2011 by staff
tasmanian devil, After years of relentlessly terrible news, biologists have found a possible hope for Tasmanian devils, which are threatened with extinction by a contagious and highly virulent form of cancer.
A small group in the northwest tip of Tasmania appears to have survived the plague largely intact. It is the first town to do so, and represents the first real sign – however tentative – beloved marsupials that can survive.
“This is the best news in a long time,” said Hamish McCallum disease ecologist at Griffith University in Australia. “It’s not necessarily the answer, but it’s a positive sign.”
McCallum, along with his co-authors on a paper October 6 Conservation Biology that describes the surviving demons, a frontline fighter against the disease of the devil facial tumor, which was first seen in 1996 when an amateur photographer saw a demon disfigured by huge boil-like tumors.
In 2001, approximately 15 percent of Tasmanian devils, than any other hand, were similarly affected, and investigators soon learned that the tumors were cancerous, contagious and deadly. They grew out of control and quickly around the faces demons “that prevent them from eating. Spread in the worst possible time, during mating.
The disease is marched through the island, where it hit, as nine out of 10 Tasmanian devils were killed in the first assault. They were declared endangered. Scientists say the species, with the exception of a few individuals kept alive at the species in zoos, it was possible in 25 years.
Researchers do not know what to do or even if something could be done. But do not give up, but is dedicated to the collection of information, basic data were not very significant at the moment but may someday be useful. One such project is the genetic characterization of the structures of Tasmanian devil population.
At the tip to the northwest of Tasmania in a patch of 10 square miles of remote area of ??mountain pine forest called West Pencil, biologist Menna Jones found signs of a genetically distinct group. Further investigation showed that the pen had only West Pines demons immune system. This was no guarantee of immunity to cancer, but was the reason for monitoring and hope.
McCallum and his colleagues – including Menna Jones and author of the new study, Rodrigo Hamed – formally began tracking West Pencil Pine demons in 2006. The new findings describe what they found: a population that, four years after the disease came, looked much as it did before, although populations have been decimated around. Still contract the disease, but in smaller numbers, and the much smaller effect.
According to McCallum, there are two possible explanations. Devil facial tumor disease may have evolved in a different, less virulent locally on Pencil Pine West. This is good news, but not the best news, because the other strains, highly mortal could come later. But maybe, just maybe, the West Pines Pen demons are the only immune.
“The best result would be that some demons in this population are resilient,” said McCallum. “We may be able to spread the resistant genotypes,” repopulated with Tasmanian devils generated from western pine survivors pencil.
Researchers continue to monitor West Pencil Pine and other areas, examining the genetics of the demons and the immune system further. “We need more data, better data on what is going on with these tumors,” said McCallum. But when asked, with that caveat, if the new findings represent a possible hope, he said, “I guess you could say that. Yes.”
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