The Contagious Cancer of Tasmania Devils

I’d heard of the contagious face tumors that are infecting the Tasmanian Devil population, but never really understood how a contagious cancer could be possible.  A molecular biologist’s first thought is that it must be a cancer inducing virus, but that’s not the case.

According, to this article, describing a breakthrough in understanding of the tumors, it is the tumor itself that spreads.  It seems that tumor cells, passed between animals during fights, are able to graft into a new host and set up a new tumor.  Think of it like a kidney transplant, one tissue from one animal growing in another.  However, in organ transplants in humans, the immune system must be suppressed to prevent the host body’s immune system from destroying the donor tissue.  The Tasmanian Devil cancer seems to be able to evade the host immune system, and is seen as another part of the host’s body.  It is ignored by the host immune system and allowed to do its thing, namely grow unchecked.

In some sense, the tumor itself is like a distinct organism, propagating and growing within the species, very much like a virus.  I wonder what the next stage in its evolution would look like…


About jaurelguay

I'm a Research Scientist, a Husband and Father, and Published Writer. View all posts by jaurelguay

7 responses to “The Contagious Cancer of Tasmania Devils

  • ashsmith88

    Really enjoyed this! Just another example of how nature continues to change and evade us. Hopefully human cancer cells don’t mutate to have this ability.

    • guayja1

      Fortunately, most humans don’t engage in the transmission activities, i.e. biting each other in the face, But I’m sure we could come up with a scifi plot where tumor transmission is possible…

  • ashsmith88

    Thats a fair point! I was talking more along the lines of just transmitting it through the air, but that scifi plot would make a good film! I read on your biography you are a microbiology graduate? Can I ask where from and what you are doing now? (I’m an inquisitive Biochemistry undergraduate)

    • guayja1

      Molecular Biology actually, and not officially graduated yet, but will be this year (God willing). I’m working in mouse models of kidney disease, and plan to move on to study regeneration in amphibians.

  • ashsmith88

    Okay, well good luck! And let me know if you ever write the plot for the film!

    • guayja1

      Good luck to you too, and I certainly will. I have several posts filed under Gradschool, if you are interested in what Gradschool is like. I’d be glad to continue discussing it there as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Because, Unicorns.

Adventures in Parenting, Family Blending, Loving, and Living.

Theo Taylor

Theo Taylor is a writer, fitness freak and college student who has been published by Thought Catalog, Asimov's and Aphelion. He writes star spanning science fiction and monster filled high fantasy. His debut novel ROGUE COSMOS will release in August, 2015. If he's not reading or writing, check the gym. He's almost always in the gym.

Killer Kitsch

Art, entertainment and pop culture blog for the discerning geek & nerd

Kin S. Law

Steampunk & Sci-fi-fantasy author


Wherewolves the Novel


Official site for author JD Spero

Just another blog, a place to share my inspirations, my writing, etc...


Writing Stories on the Hearts of Children

Spark: A Creative Anthology

Spark is a quarterly anthology accepting Poetry, Flash Fiction, Short Stories, and Creative Non-Fiction. We encourage both established and emerging talent.

Under a Starlit Sky

Flash Fiction & Short Stories

Tony's Thoughts

My opinions, my views. Nothing else.

Anika's Antics

The Official page of Anika Arrington. I write things. Some of them end up here.

here + now

let's talk . let's drink. let's live.


Steampunk music and the people behind it

The Daily Wordforge

Wordsmiths, tell stories.


Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight uses statistical analysis — hard numbers — to tell compelling stories about politics, sports, science, economics and culture.

New England Science Writers

A professional organization of reporters, writers, freelancers, producers, bloggers, authors and communicators in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont

The Dream Forge

by Anders Blixt, SF author and game designer


Blowing minds, melting faces, and pissing off The Man since 2009.

Protect Young Minds

Kids Can Learn to Reject Pornography

Rave Reviews By Nonnie Jules

Reviews Make an Author's World Go Round

How do we feed the world's starving

We feed billions of people in need, this is how.

The English Major's Blog

A blog for Sheila van den Heuvel-Collins: writer, editor and tutor


science | philosophy | thinking

Silly Robots

Writing Science Fiction was always this fun

Planetary Defense Command

Defending the planet from bad science fiction

From Researcher to Patient

My fight against acute myeloid leukemia...round 2

The Torn Page - A K Hinchey's Writing Blog

Where fantasy and reality collide...

All Five Sisters

All five of us - together in one place!

one cool site

WordPress blogging tips & tutorials

Ben Ireland Books

Books by Ben Ireland

Nelson Literary Agency

Just another blog, a place to share my inspirations, my writing, etc...

Marian Rosarum

fairy tale and literary fantasy author

Scenes and Sequels

The writing and ramblings of David Kearney

Lori Lesko - BLOG

Just another blog, a place to share my inspirations, my writing, etc...

graphic designer, bibliophile, spoonie


tell a redemptive story with your life. now.


The Science Of Survival

Airship Ambassador

Information for the Steampunk Community -


Just a shiny little place to dream.

Just another blog, a place to share my inspirations, my writing, etc...


Just another blog, a place to share my inspirations, my writing, etc...


Just another blog, a place to share my inspirations, my writing, etc...

Novel Conclusions

"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." - Ernest Hemingway

%d bloggers like this: