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Devils Bite Back

BBC News presents new research suggesting the Tasmanian Devil may be adapting to become more resistant to Devil Facial Tumor Disease, a devastating transmissible cancer first detected in the mid-1990s.

Based on genetic, epidemiological, and other data collected over a decade, an international team argues that disease tolerance and resistance are on the rise in the Devils, leading to more cases of successful reproduction and, in some cases, tumor regression. 

"Devils can now adapt to the transmissible cancer at the genetic and phenotypic levels — meaning the DNA and characteristics of the gene traits," reports Beth Timmins. "This is due to their phenotypic plasticity — the capacity of an individual organism to alter its physiology or gene expression in response to changing environmental conditions.

A study published in Nature Communications nearly three years ago suggested that Tasmanian devils were evolving resistance to the disease.