The Tasmanian devil gives clues to learn to live with cancer

Surrey Hills (Australia). As a result of facial tumors that have decimated two-thirds of the Tasmanian devil population for three decades, this marsupial has developed survival strategies that provide clues for humanity to learn to live with cancer.

Facial tumors of the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), one of the few animal species prone to transmissible cancer, are spread through bites during fighting, feeding and mating.


Once contracted, the tumor expands, thus generating the risk of metastasis, necrosis or secondary infections, in addition to breaking the bones or the powerful jaws of this elusive nocturnal marsupial, as Elise Ringwaldt, researcher, explained to foreign media. from the University of Tasmania, in the remote town of Surrey Hills.

The facial tumors that rapidly ravaged Tasmanian devils since the late 1990s led to the species being listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2008 Red List of Threatened Species.


But over the years something surprising happened: researchers noticed that the Tasmanian devil – popularized as TAZ in the Looney Tunes animated series – had developed ecological and immunological strategies against the two types of facial cancer (DFTD and DFT2) to escape the death.

One of these strategies is that many females – which normally reach sexual maturity at two years – can reproduce months earlier to ensure the continuation of the species, Rodrigo Hamede, one of the world leaders in the study of cancer of the bones, explained to EFE. Tasmanian devils.


The other strategies have to do with the genetic capacity to attack cancer cells, since the researchers observed that “these genes are more stable and have been selected through the process of natural selection from generation to generation.”

If this were not enough, a small part of the devil population develops the tumor and at “a certain point during the progression of the cancer these tumors regress and end up disappearing,” he added.


“This genetic adaptation” has allowed this marsupial “to be a little more tolerant” to this cancer, since the processes of natural selection allowed the tumor strains “to be less virulent and less invasive,” said Hamede, who investigates for almost two decades facial tumors of Tasmanian devils both in state and national parks and on private lands.

One of those locations is a reserve in the Surrey Hills where the company Forico, which is certified for sustainable forest management by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), carries out selective logging in a mosaic pattern.


This practice creates small micro-habitats for Tasmanian devils, allowing the animal’s habits to be studied and strategies formulated to conserve wildlife.

(With information from EFE)