Genetics of Tasmanian Devil facial tumour disease

Katherine holding a Tasmania Devil


Professor Kathy Belov leads a dynamic research team in the Faculty of Veterinary Science. They are working on the immunogenetics and genomics of Australasia’s wildlife – including devils, wallabies, platypuses, koalas, frogs, skinks, cats and bats. Kathy was an active participant in the opossum, platypus and tammar wallaby genome projects, during which she identified expansions in novel antimicrobial peptide gene families. These novel peptides protect immunologically naive marsupial and monotreme young from environmental pathogens. They are also remarkably effective at killing a broad range of bacteria, including multidrug resistant golden staph!

Kathy’s team are also studying the Tasmanian devil. The Tasmanian devil faces extinction in the wild due to the emergence of a contagious cancer. Kathy and her team are tracking the evolutionary trajectory of the cancer and trying to unravel the genetics of resistance and susceptibility of devils to DFTD. Together with the Zoo and Aquarium Association, they are managing the genetics of the insurance program, Australia’s largest captive breeding program.

SEIB Presentation Details - Genetics of Tasmanian Devil facial tumour disease

Can we save the Tasmanian devil from extinction?


The Tasmanian devil faces extinction in the wild due to the emergence of a new infectious disease. Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) is a contagious cancer that is spread during biting. The disease emerged and has spread due to a lack of genetic diversity in Tasmanian devil populations. The recent discovery of genetically different animals in northwestern Tasmania initially raised hopes that some of these animals may be able to mount an immune response against DFTD. However, this has not occurred and there is little evidence of genetic resistance. Moreover, the emergence of new strains of DFTD adds to the complexity to the picture. I will talk about current research and conservation strategies to save the Tasmanian devil from extinction.


When: Monday, 18 March 2013
Where: Lecture Theatre 3, Education Block, Westmead Hospital
Time: 12.30pm - 1.30pm

RSVP: Please email seib@sydney.edu.au to register your interest in attending. Nil cost.