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Save the Devils!

In a paper published online in advance in PNAS this week, the Pennsylvania State University's Stephan Schuster and his international colleagues report their whole-genome analysis of two animals of distinct geographic origin, as well as 14 complete mitochondrial genomes from both current and museum specimens, for the Tasmanian devil — which continues to face the threat of "extinction because of a contagious cancer known as Devil Facial Tumor Disease," the authors write. In its investigations, the team unearthed genomic evidence to suggest that "the observed low genetic diversity in today's population preceded the ... disease outbreak by at least 100 [years]," Schuster et al. write. The authors suggest that "using a genetically characterized breeding stock based on the genome sequence will enable preservation of the extant genetic diversity in future Tasmanian devil populations." USA Today's Elizabeth Weise says the Schuster et al. study "could help biologists create a genetically diverse ark to keep the species alive and healthy in captive breeding programs." The UK Natural History Museum's David Rollinson told BBC News that "it is a big step forward to actually get the genome sequence from this animal." He also suggested that "a similar approach could be used to study and save other endangered animals," BBC says. Reuters adds that the team does indeed plan to use whole-genome sequencing for future studies aimed at conservation in other animals.