Contagious cancers may not be as rare as thought, say scientists who have discovered a second transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devils – small dog-sized ferocious carnivores found in the Australian island state of Tasmania.
Transmissible cancers – cancers which can spread between individuals by the transfer of living cancer cells – are believed to arise extremely rarely in nature.
One of the few known transmissible cancers causes facial tumours in Tasmanian devils, and is threatening this species with extinction.
The discovery by researchers from the University of Tasmania in Australia, and the University of Cambridge in UK, calls into question our current understanding of the processes that drive cancers to become transmissible.
Tasmanian devils are iconic marsupial carnivores that are only found in the wild in Tasmania. The size of a small dog, the animals have a reputation for ferocity as they frequently bite each other during mating and feeding interactions.