17-year study of Tasmanian devils offers message of cautious hope for species on the brink

tassie devil

A recent discovery is giving scientists hope that Tasmanian devil numbers can survive well into the future. Devils now being trapped for research appear to indicate they are trying to adapt to the disease and persist in spite of it.

Dr Rodrigo Hamede of UTAS, who is leading the research said, “In the past we have observed genetic adaptations in the devil, which have allowed them to persist despite the deadly cancer. Now we have evidence that, through natural selection, the tumour is fine tuning its optimal virulence, a trade-off between transmission rate and disease-induced mortality. This means that DFTD is very unlikely to drive the devil to extinction, but it also means the disease will not disappear, it’s an evolutionary deal between the two to coexist with each other.”

The findings, published this year in the journal Evolutionary Applications, have been eyed off by labs around the world, who hope the unique study may contain learnings for cancer in humans. These findings are also important for the conservation of the species.

Read more about the project on the ABC.