back to article Tasmanian tumours blamed on inbreeding

More evidence, if it were needed, that no good can come of indulging in cousin-coitus. The Tasmanian devil, the grouchy doglike marsupial immortalised in the form of Warner Bros character Taz, is facing extinction due to a rampant communicable cancer. Tasmanian devil tumour The gruesome effects of DFTD. Researchers have …


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  1. Andy

    At least 3 transmissable cancers

    Cerviacal cancer in humans is also transmissable. It is related to the human papiloma virus I believe (

  2. Chuck Chandler


    According to the site linked, the thylacine went extinct 2000 years ago, which isn't as dire sounding as 20 species in 200 years.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not to pick nits....

    But the cervical (and throat) cancers caused by HPV are not infectious in of themselves, but are instead caused by the body's response to the human papiloma virus.

  4. John PM Chappell
    IT Angle


    ... you meant 'cervical' and 'papilloma' *sigh*

    Tip; if attempting to correct someone, be sure you know what you are on about.

    Anyway, you're correct, cervical cancer in women has indeed been linked to the HPV group.

    P.S. <now obligatory> "What's the IT angle?"

  5. Paul Lee

    Re: Thylacine

    The Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, only went extinct (officially) in the 1930s! However, there are unconfirmed reports of the animal still being seen in the wild....

  6. Mog


    It says the thylacine became extinct from *mainland Australia* 2000 years ago. In Tasmania which is an island, it survived until the 1960s or so. The pics on that site are from the 1920s. Don't think they had cameras 2000 years ago.

    Of course it could all be a hoax, just like everything else on the internet.

  7. Grant


    as Presumably... said Tip; if attempting to correct someone, be sure you know what you are on about.

    The link site has a picture of a thylacine from 1928 on the page the link goes to. on another page it mentions that the animal "went extinct on the mainland" not in Tasmanian, within the last 2000. So 20 species in 200 years is dire sounding and sadly correct.

  8. Eric Grunin


    >the thylacine went extinct 2000 years ago

    Read it again -- that was on the *mainland*. (Tasmainia is an island to the southeast.)

  9. Adam Winer


    Chuck - try rereading that site with a bit more care. They became extinct *on the mainland* 2000 years ago. They became extinct on Tasmania in the 20th century (though rumors persist of surviving individuals). The extinction rates of Australian marsupials over the last 200 years or so have been utterly appalling.

  10. Eric Olson

    @ Chuck

    Actually, it became extinct on the mainland 2000 years ago, and survived on Tasmania for until what looks like to the be the early 20th century (based on the captions of the pictures).

    As to HPV, I would say HPV in itself is not cancerous. The body's reaction to certain strains of HPV tend in increase the risk of cancer, but not all cases of HPV infection result in cancer. Unlike in the case of the devils, where it seems to be that the cancerous growths themselves are the symptom of the infection.

    What I don't quite get here, while it does look like a cancerous tumor that has erupted and become a weeping, oozing sore, does it only grow at the point of infection, or is it able to eventually metastasize and spread to other locations in the body? If it doesn't do the latter, can it really still be considered a cancer? Or does cancer really just mean uncontrolled growth of cells? In which case, wouldn't warts and skin tags also be "cancer?" They aren't really controlled by the body, as far as I know.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Chuck

    "According to the site linked, the thylacine went extinct 2000 years ago, which isn't as dire sounding as 20 species in 200 years."

    Which make the site's photos of the beast running around a 1920's zoo all the more remarkable. ;-)

  12. Brian Miller

    @Chuck, Thylacine in zoos in 1920s

    Um, Chuck, did you note that the photographs on the website showed Thylacines in zoos in the 1920s? "Postcard of Tasmanian Marsupial Wolf. Hobart Zoo c. 1928" would mean that the beastie was around then. The website says that they became extinct on the mainland 2000 year ago.

    The website doesn't mention when the last Thylacine in captivity died.

  13. dan

    @ chuck

    Read the site again... 2000 year estimate is for when the thylacine disappeared from the mainland, not from the earth...

    From the linked site:

    "Although the precise reasons for extinction of the Thylacine from mainland Australia are not known it appears to have declined in competition with the Dingo and became extinct on the mainland not less than 2000 years ago. Its decline and presumed extinction in Tasmania was hastened by the introduction of dogs, and by people actively hunting the animal."

  14. Nano nano

    I Pronounce You ...

    Mis-spelling "Cerviacal" is no doubt due to what appears to be the common meeja pronunciation "sir-vye-cal", though, since the 'i' in cervix is short, I would tend to say "sir-vick-al" .

  15. Mark

    Only read this if you really care how viruses cause cancer.

    Ack! Sorry to also correct some people, but there are many cases of cancer being transmitted by viruses, including some recent evidence that breast cancer is transmitted by viruses in mice.

    To say that the cancer is due to the "reaction" of the body of the infected individual is not really very accurate. Probably the best characterised are the avian sarcomas (which derive their name from the growth factor, and therefore cell-division stimulating, signalling protein src).

    To put it simply with a couple of examples:

    v-src is a homologue of cellular src (or c-src) which is encoded by the viruses own genome and therefore manufactured in the hosts cells during infection. Unlike c-src, v-src is constitutively active even in the absence of growth factors, and this means that cell division continues to be stimulated and the result is cancer. This is an "oncogene".

    Other viruses can cause cancer by inserting their genome into the hosts genome right where a gene that inhibits cell division (a "tumour supressor gene") lies, thereby disrupting it. So again cell division continues uncontrolled and cancer ensues.

    (Yes, I'm a biochemistry researcher and not a computer programmer and sorry, there is no IT angle).

  16. Tristan

    Tasmanians famous for inbreeding

    When I saw the title of this article, I honestly thought it was referring to the reduced gene pool of the people of the isle of Tasmania. It's a running joke on the mainland that Tasmanians are inbred to the point of 6 fingers per hand being the norm. It is also somewhat serious, with many geneticists using the Tasmanian population for research.

    Joke: What do you call a Tasmanian virgin? A girl that can run faster than her brothers.

  17. Scott

    The poor devils

    I thought this article was going to be about the human population and was expecting a good laugh at the expense of our southern cousins

    Some how not as much fun as I was expecting

  18. IanKRolfe


    Has anyone mentioned to Chuck that the site he linked to says the Thylacine was extinct on the *mainland* 2000 years ago, but survived in Tasmania until the 60's? I think he should be told!

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "What I don't quite get here, while it does look like a cancerous tumor that has erupted and become a weeping, oozing sore, does it only grow at the point of infection, or is it able to eventually metastasize and spread to other locations in the body?"

    Looking again at the article:

    "...the smallest of wounds to the mouth..."

    "Tumours sprout around the head and face, sometimes displacing eyes and teeth..."

    This suggests (to me) that the cancer is somehow restricted to the face, but is not only present at the point of infection (the mouth).

    The initial tumours here invariably kill the animal, so maybe the poor sods just don't live long enough for the cancer to spread....

  20. Mark


    Last film of the thylacine in a zoo was around about 1939-40

  21. jeremy
    Thumb Down

    Humour vs Fact

    Your mention of Cousin-Coitus in the first line of your article is sadly contra-factual.

    Sexual reproduction between cousins - and first cousins in particular - actually maximises the heterozygosity of the MHC, rather than diminishing it.

    I will extend you the benefit of the doubt that you were merely trying to be humourous, but you should really be sure you know what you are talking about before you make jokes about a subject that might make cousin married couples worry or even panic about the health of their kids for no good reason.

  22. Peter Mellor

    Four transmissible cancers

    Add to the list Burkitt lymphoma, described by the British surgeon Dennis Burkitt in 1956 while he was working in central Africa. This is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (which also causes glandular fever), and is common in African children whose immune systems have been weakened by malaria. (The virus does not cause cancer except where the immune system is weakened.)

  23. Rob Crawford
    IT Angle

    never mind the spelling as it's off topic anyway

    From what little I have read about this, it appears to be spread probably by saliva while they are grappling, fighting etc. Though there are opposing factions on this.

    Though all sides agree that a virus isn't involved (apparently dogs have similar cancer which is a STD)

    due to the damage caused around the mouth & eyes, the animals die of starvation and don't (seem to) survive long enough to be sure if the disease spreads throughout the body.

    I believe the BBC Focus magazine has an article regarding this.

  24. Peter Mellor

    Thylacines (again)

    The reason that the thylacine became extinct in Tasmania was that it was regarded as a pest and the government offered a A$5 bounty for every one killed. It was a fearsome predator, with the widest jaw gape and most powerful bite for an animal of its size known to science. It liked sheep (hence the bounty) and could see off a dog (or a dingo) with no problem. It is also (misleadingly) known as the Tassie Tiger. (It had stripy hindquarters.) The last known thylacine died in captivity around 1930 and there are surviving photographs and even film of several of the animals in the zoo.

    I bought a book on the thylacine the last time I was in Oz, but gave it to my daughter, so do not have it to hand to check my dates and other facts. The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs of thylacines in captivity, and was written by a journalist who has devoted much of his life to searching for survivors in remote places.

  25. Mog


    With all due respect, I don't think the progeny of cousins need worry about getting Tasmanian devil face cancer. Surely married cousins would just shrug off such a crack as the usual pisstaking, anyway.

    I wonder how many people who are married to their cousins read The Reg. It's a niche demographic.

  26. Alistair

    How unfair - to accuse those poor li'l devils

    It's not inbreeding thats caused this problem for the Tazzies - for El Reg to accuse them of such activities is really not fair. The problem is lack of genetic diversity. One could see this as a natural occurance in a species for whom last orders has been called in the pub of evolutionary development.

    @Mark: No need to apologise mate this is a science section after all and informed comment is very much appreciated.

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