Saving the Tassie Devils from Extinction

Dr Kathy Belov

Dr Kathy Belov

Devil Facial Tumour Disease is a cancer that threatens to make Australia’s internationally-recognised icon extinct.

It is a sad fact that 85 per cent of our Tasmanian Devils have gone already. It is estimated that within 25 years the Tasmanian Devil will be extinct in the wild.
The reason for the dramatic decline in Devil numbers is a contagious cancer, which is spread when Devils bite each other. At the University of Sydney, our researchers have identified that the best hope of saving our Tasmanian Devils is to bring these animals into captivity, and breed them away from this disease.
The ultimate aim of this program is to release these captive Devils back into the wild once it is safe to do so – either when the Devils have become extinct in the wild; or when we have developed an effective and safe vaccine for the disease.

We already have 500 Tasmanian Devils in captivity, and we now need to manage the genetics for each one of those Devils.

group

L-R: Emily Wong, Camilla Whittington, Kathy Belov, Sarah Jobbins, Yuanyuan Cheng, Bridget Murphy,

For $150 per Devil, we will be able to understand the genetic make-up of each individual Devil. This will have a number of positive outcomes:

  • It will ensure that genetic diversity is maintained amongst the Devil population, which is vital to the long-term survival of the species.
  • We will be able to identify and match male and female Devils for successful mate pairings.
  • Tasmanian Devils and humans share 20,000 genes. The discoveries we make will also contribute towards the development of treatments against human and other animal cancers.

Together, we can create a groundswell of support that will provide the catalyst to save Australia’s Tasmanian Devils.


A Lecture in Genomics and Human Genetics: Understanding Transmissible Cancer in Tasmanian Devils

Katherine Belov, Professor of Comparative Genomics at the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Sydney and contributing author of the 2012 Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics, talks about her article "A Comparative Genomics Approach to Understanding Transmissible Cancer in Tasmanian Devils," which she co-wrote with Janine E. Deakin, ARC Future Fellow at the Research School of Biology at the Australian National University. In this lecture, Prof. Belov discusses the origins of the Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD), a transmissible cancer that has already caused the disappearance of 85 percent of the species and could lead to its extinction in the wild within 25 years. She explains what is known of the tumor based on its genomics, why it is transmitted between animals without causing immune recognition in the devils, and what are the conservation efforts to save the species from extinction.

Read the review


Bridget Murphy

Bridget Murphy

Helping the Research Project

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