JCVI: Tasmanian Devil Genome Provides a Glimpse at a Species Under Threat
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Collaborator Release 27-Jun-2011


Tasmanian Devil Genome Provides a Glimpse at a Species Under Threat

JCVI researcher Vanessa Hayes has been working with collaborators, Stephan Schuster and Webb Miller from Penn State University, to sequence and analyze the genome of the Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii). The team together with JCVI researchers Jason Miller and Brian Walenz, who used their CABOG software to generate the draft genome assembly, has published the genome analysis today in PNAS.

This largest carnivorous Australian marsupial is under threat of extinction because of an unusual and rare disease, an infectious transmissible facial cancer. This cancer was first reported in 1996 and has swept across the island of Tasmania resulting in a Devil population decline of around 80%.

Dr. Hayes and her collaborators hope that by sequencing the genome and tumor of the Devil they can better understand not only the genetic basis of this highly aggressive cancer, but also evaluate the impact of this cancer on the Tasmanian devil population providing a genetic basis for future maintenance of the species.

The team has already utilized this information to begin to define the extent of genetic diversity across the wild population, while Hayes hopes to publish follow-up studies later this year defining the impact of this cancer on population structure.

For more information see Penn State's Tasmanian devil web site and press release.

Tumor transcriptome sequencing was performed by GeneWorks, Australia. Data generation performed by the Hayes team was accomplished while part of the Children's Cancer Institute Australia.


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Vanessa Hayes and Tim Faulkner, Tasmanian devil keeper at Australian Reptile park, Gosford, NSW, Australia with one of the Tasmanian devils selected for captive breeding. Image courtesy Chris Bennett.

This devil was photographed at the quarantine site in Tasmania before being released into the breeding program. Image courtesy Vanessa Hayes.

This is Cedric, the sequenced Western Tasmanian devil, 2 weeks after his tumors were removed. Image courtesy Vanessa Hayes.