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The Devils' Resistance

While the Tasmanian devil population has been ravaged by devil facial tumor disease — the transmissible cancer has spread through much of the species' range and has led to an 80 percent decline in their numbers within 20 years — some devils are evolving resistance to it, according to a new study.

Researchers from the US and Australia used restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (RAD-seq) to examine SNPs in 294 Tasmanian devils from three different populations. As the team led by the University of Idaho's Paul Hohenlohe and Washington State University's Andrew Storfer reports in Nature Communications this week, it uncovered two genomic regions that are under strong selection in devils. These regions include genes involved in immune function or cancer risk, suggesting that the devils are evolving resistance to devil facial tumor disease.

And they are evolving it quickly. The researchers calculated that this response occurred within four to six generations of the disease's appearance. This, Discover's D-brief blog adds, means there might be hope for Tasmanian devils.

"The models predicted extinction already, and they are surviving," Storfer says, according to D-brief. "At this point, I don't think they are going to go extinct."