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Devilish decline: infectious cancer and the Tasmanian devil

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Followed by a wine reception! entry: 2 pounds, FREE for members!

Cancer arises when a single cell of the body acquires mutations that release it from normal cellular constraints and allow it to grow uncontrollably. As disease progresses, the cancerous cells often become invasive and move to distant parts of the body. My research focuses on two cancers, one in Tasmanian devils, and one in dogs, in which the cancer cells have gained the unusual ability not only to spread within an individual, but also to be transferred between individuals. These diseases have provided an opportunity to study cancers that have outlived the individuals that gave rise to them and embarked on new evolutionary trajectories as free-living infectious parasites.

Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) is a cancer affecting Tasmanian devils, the world’s largest marsupial carnivore, and canine transmissible venereal tumour (CTVT) is a venereal cancer of dogs. Both DFTD and CTVT are transferred between individuals by the direct transfer of cancer cells, but the two diseases have emerged independently and have strikingly different life histories. We are sequencing transmissible cancer genomes at high resolution in order to gain an understanding of the evolutionary processes that have characterised the emergence of these unusual diseases.

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