Scientists in northern Tasmania have revealed that they might have made a breakthrough in the mystifying tumor disease affecting Tasmanian devils. These tumors spread by biting and feeding and could also be transferred when the animals are mating, the researchers said.
Devil researcher Anne-Maree Pearse from the state's Primary Industries Department said that unlike most cancers these tumors do not grow from the tissue of the affected devil, "What we've shown, or we've shown a lot of very strong evidence that the cancer is transmitted from animal to animal during fighting and biting, but by an infectious cancer cell line ... that is incredibly unusual," she observed. Alistair Scot, who leads the project for the devil disease said that these new findings would help them get a clearer picture of the facial tumors in these animals, "The possibility of transmission through a virus or through airborne vector and those sort of things we have had on the table, but this very much puts the focus on to the physical transmission with the cancer being transmitted from devil to devil," he said. Environment Department's Nick Mooney said that even with these new findings, the animals will continue to be susceptible for some time to come. "I mean the history of diseases like this is that some animals are resistant to a disease - I mean it doesn't matter what infectious disease it is usually," he said. "It is an animal resistance [which is the] same that applies to people and so what often happens is the [extent to which the] animal population goes down to various degrees depends on the disease then builds up again from the animals that have some sort of natural resistance."