- The Loom
Saving Tasmanian Devils From A New Form of Life–Themselves
Tasmanian devils have given rise to a weird new quasi-form of life: a cancer that spreads from animal to animal like a parasite. In tomorrow’s New York Times, I report on the latest analysis of devil’s facial tumour disease, published in this week’s Science. Scientists have now tracked down the cancer to its progenitor: nerve cells known as Schwann cells.
Now scientists can use this evolutionary history to design diagnostic tests for the cancer and perhaps even vaccines. Let’s hope they succeed–the cancer has wiped out 60 percent of all Tasmanian devils since 1996 and has the potential to drive the whole species extinct in a matter of decades.
For more on cancer as a new form of life, check out