The Contagious Cancer of Tasmania Devils

Not-Dot

I’d heard of the contagious face tumors that are infecting the Tasmanian Devil population, but never really understood how a contagious cancer could be possible.  A molecular biologist’s first thought is that it must be a cancer inducing virus, but that’s not the case.

According, to this article, describing a breakthrough in understanding of the tumors, it is the tumor itself that spreads.  It seems that tumor cells, passed between animals during fights, are able to graft into a new host and set up a new tumor.  Think of it like a kidney transplant, one tissue from one animal growing in another.  However, in organ transplants in humans, the immune system must be suppressed to prevent the host body’s immune system from destroying the donor tissue.  The Tasmanian Devil cancer seems to be able to evade the host immune system, and is seen as another part of the host’s…

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~ by Sable Aradia on March 14, 2013.

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