Scientist have discovered the Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) does not age or weaken over time. This has dire implications for the Tasmanian devil, and those trying to save it.
In most cells, telomeres (the tips of the chromosome that prevent the chromosome from fraying) shorten with each cell division. When the telomeres get too short the cell can no longer divide and dies.
This is a normal part of the aging process. But in the devil’s tumour cells, telomeres are being replenished – allowing the cells to keep dividing without limit.
So DFTD is able to survive indefinitely.
This means the captive breeding program of DFTD free devils is vital for maintaining a healthy devil population, and makes the hunt for a vaccination all the more urgent.