Once abundant throughout Australia Tasmanian devils are now indigenous only to the island state of Tasmania. They are most known for their unique behavior but to many researchers they are extremely fascinating because they are so genetically similar to each other that they are almost clones. Unfortunately, this has made them vulnerable to the transmitted cancer known as devil facial tumor disease (DFTD). Now, evidence of an isolated population with different genetics has occurred, possibly representing salvation from the disease.
Recently, however, a bushwalker collected five samples of devil droppings on the southwesternmost peninsula of the island and sent them to Professor Katherine Belov of the University of Sydney. Belov, a leading expert on the Tasmanian devil, had Ph.D. student Rebecca Gooley test the droppings for DNA.
The scanned droppings showed 9 new genetic variations
For most species, this would be unremarkable, but for the devils this indicates more diversity than has been seen across the rest of the island.
It is hoped that these different genetics will make the south-west devils resistant to DFTD.
It still isn’t known whether these south-west devils will be immune to the disease
However, it is great news that this struggling species at last has some new hope. Belov said in a statement “We are excited because it means that if we go and collect devils from the south-west, we will be able to increase the genetic diversity of our insurance population”. She told the Sydney Morning Herald: “For years we have been calling devils clones because there’s so little diversity and now we find that there is diversity out there, it’s just in remote areas.”
Despite financial support from the Save the Devil campaign, grants to trap devils in an area without road access is hard to come by. Thinking laterally, Gooley, Belov and Grueber are entering an award for women in science, to be chosen by popular vote in June, which would partially cover the costs of chasing the devil into some of the least explored places on the planet.
Belov pointed out that now every effort should be made to access samples from the SW to ensure that genetic diversity is maintained.
H/T to iflscience