CIE Seminar Series 2016 – Tracking the evolution of devil facial tumour disease

Janine DeakinSPEAKER: Associate Professor Janine Deakin, Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra

DATE: Friday, 12th August 2016
LOCATION: Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds, Room KA4.207
TIME: 1:30pm
Seminar will also be video linked to the following campuses: Melbourne Campus at Burwood, Burwood Corporate Centre (BCC) and Warrnambool Campus, Room J2.22

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ABSTRACT: Tasmanian devils are currently under the threat of extinction in the wild due to a transmissible tumour known as devil facial tumour (DFT) disease. The unusual feature of this disease is that the tumour cells themselves are the infectious agent, being spread when devils bite each other during social interactions.

By studying DFT chromosomes, it has been possible to trace the evolution of this tumour as it spreads through the population. The comparison of different DFT strains has provided important insight into the evolution of this infectious agent and is helping to determine whether there is a chance of the tumour evolving to a point where devils will be able to survive DFT infections, permitting the survival of the population in the wild.

Cases of transmissible cancers are rare but it appears that a second transmissible facial tumour (DFT2) has been identified in individuals from southern Tasmania. DFT2 is genetically distinct from DFT1. The emergence of a second transmissible tumour raises the questions about the origin of transmissible tumours. Is there something about devils that makes them susceptible to developing these diseases? I will discuss the work my team has been doing on both transmissible tumours.

BIO: Janine is an Associate Professor in the Institute for Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra. She received her PhD in Biology from Macquarie University.

She then carried out postdoctoral research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio before returning to Australia to take up a research position at ANU in the Comparative Genomics group.

In 2010, Janine was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship to track the evolution of devil facial tumours but also has research projects on other native Australian species, such as chromosomal speciation in rock-wallabies and sex determination in the central bearded dragon.

Appointments with guest speaker may be made via Beata Ujvari.