Coevolutionary Genomics of Tasmanian Devils and their Transmissible Cancer
Tasmanian devils are now threatened with extinction by infectious cancer. Since its discovery in 1996, Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) has swept over 80% of the way across Tasmania and has caused >90% declines in populations diseased the longest. Rarely, if ever, do we have a chance to study a wildlife disease in all stages of existence across the entire geographic range of a natural host species – from pre-emergence to emergence, to post-emergence declines- and possibly even endemism. The DFTD-Tasmanian devil system provides this unique, yet unfortunate opportunity. Our NIH and the NSF-funded international research team is capitalizing on over 20 years of research and availability of reference genomes and transcriptomes for both tumor and devil. We are analyzing thousands of devil genotypes and hundreds of tumor samples taken both before and afterepizootics to test for selection throughout both genomes, coevolution, patterns of resistance, and phenotypic evolution of Tasmanian devils aided by pedigree reconstruction. Our global research team combines expertise in evolutionary genomics, ecology, epidemiological modeling, immunology and cancer biology.