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.

  • Margres, M.J., M. Jones, B Epstein, S. Comte, S. Fox…A. Storfer* Large-effect loci affect survival in Tasmanian devils infected with a transmissible cancer. Submitted to Molecular Ecology.
  • Wells, K., R.K. Hamede, A. Storfer, P.A. Hohenlohe, M.E. Jones and H. I. McCallum. 2017Infection of the fittest: devil facial tumour disease has greatest effect on individuals with highest reproductive output. Ecology Letters 20: 770-778.
  • Storfer, A., B. Epstein, M. Jones, S. Micheletti, S.F. Spear, S. Lachish and S. Fox. 2017. Landscape genetics of the Tasmanian devil: Implications for the spread of an infectious cancer. Conservation Genetics. 18: 1287-1297; DOI: 10.1007/s10592-017-0980-4
  • Hendricks, S. B. Epstein†, B Schönfeld, C. Wiench, R. Hamede, M. Jones, A Storfer and P. Hohenlohe. 2017. Conservation implications of limited genetic diversity and population structure in Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii). ConservationGenetics 18: 977-982.
  • Epstein, B., M Jones, R Hamede, S Hendricks, H McCallum, EP Murchison, B Schönfeld, C Wiench, P Hohenlohe and AStorfer*. 2016. Rapid evolutionary response to a transmissible cancer. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5084