Elisa Kirk Colombano
Class of 2023Stanley, Hong Kong
- "Transfer of DFTD in Tasmanian Devils" with mentor Kate (Oct. 22, 2023)
Transfer of DFTD in Tasmanian Devils
Started June 22, 2023
Abstract or project description
The Tasmanian Devil is the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world and the top predator in its ecosystem. Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) is a highly contagious cancer ravaging its population and leading to a decline of up to 90%. DFTD is spread through biting, which is a fundamental part of devil behavior. DFTD has an infection rate of 50% and is consistently fatal in the span of 6 to 12 months after infection. Transmission rates are significantly higher during the mating season, due to an increase in biting behaviors. Much of the additional biting occurs intersexually, leading to equal infection rates between males and females. As transmission predominantly relates to mating behaviors, transmission is much lower in sexually immature devils and has led to precocial breeding at the age of one. This is likely to begin to lead to infection in younger devils. Different regions of Tasmania DFTD lineages have differed between diploid tumors and slower growing tetraploid tumors in North West Tasmania. Genetic diversity of the MHC observed in different regions does not affect the likelihood of infection. Variance in the disease is likely to explain the decreased infection rate in the Northwest rather than genetic and behavioral factors. Currently, the future of the Tasmanian Devil is still unclear, however, their populations are a major concern to its surrounding ecosystems.