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Tasmanian devils face new cancer threat for survival in the wild

File photo: A Tasmanian Devil is looking forward to her new enclosure at the Wild Life Zoo in Sydney’s city centre, on December 21, 2012. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

A new study by a British university has shown that the Tasmanian devil is under serious threat from a newly emerged infectious cancer, that would be catastrophic for the animal to survive in the wild.

Scientists at the University of Southampton in the united kingdom have announced that there is a secondary cancer found in the animals — in the first place thinking that circulates in a small population of the marsupials — can now do more damage to an already weakened population.

New research led by the University of Southampton biological scientist Dr. Hannah Siddle, published in eLife, has shown that this form of cancer has the potential to lead to irreversible carnage to the world’s largest remaining carnivorous marsupial.

“There is a real threat that this infectious cancer that can now spread very quickly through the population,” Dr. Siddle said. “The Tasmanian devil has been decimated by a contagious cancer and these latest findings could jeopardize his future in the wild.”

For more than 20 years, Tasmanian devils are suffering from Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), which makes almost 100 percent of the mortality in the species.

The face of cancer, who joined the marsupials bite each other’s faces during fights and kills the animals within a few months. Thousands of Tasmanian devils have been wiped out by the disease.

Dr. Siddle, the study found that the cancer cells have MHC molecules, which allows the immune system to determine if a cell is friend or foe, triggering an immune response if the cell is foreign and a potential threat.

Researchers have, however, found evidence have also found evidence that the cancer cells can lose their MHC, it attacks the immune system and make it much more likely that the cancer will be able to spread rapidly.

“Although this would be very bad news for the Tasmanian devil, we are in a better position than we were when the first contagious cancer. We are to continue with research and with the development of captive management strategies,” Dr. Siddle said.

“However, this is a warning to how we manage not only the Tasmanian devil, but all vulnerable species, particularly limited to the islands, where the disease is a real threat and can do a lot of damage quickly.”

The Tasmanian devil is listed as “threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with its global population is believed to have suffered 80% decline in numbers since the mid-1990s, with only about 10,000 to 15,000 in the wild.

This story was previously published in the news.com.au.

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