Scientists have said there is the possible emergence of a new form of Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) which can spread rapidly from one person to another through populations, transmitted by biting.
The revelation was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
With eight reported cases across southeastern Tasmania, the cancer causes large facial tumors in infected Tasmanian devils and can result in death within months. It is the second transmissible cancer known to affect the species. This form is genetically distinct to the newly identified cancer.
To date there were two known forms of transmissible cancers in nature, and this included forms of tumour spreadable between Tasmanian devils, as well as between dogs and soft-shell clams. Scientists said they knew about two other cancers that can be transmitted from animal to others in dogs and soft shell.
Cancers normally cannot survive beyond the body of the host but this transmissible cancer can, through biting, see the transfer of living cancer cells between animals. Transmissible cancers, however, arise when cancer cells gain the ability to spread beyond the body of the host that first spawned them, by transmission of cancer cells to new hosts.
They said the contagious cancers are taking advantage of distinct Tasmanian devil behavior and the low genetic diversity among the species