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Allograft theory

Transmission of devil facial-tumour disease

An uncanny similarity in the karyotype of these malignant tumours means that they could be infective.


The Tasmanian devil, a large carnivorous Australian marsupial, is under threat from a widespread fatal disease in which a malignant oral–facial tumour obstructs the animal's ability to feed1. Here we show that the chromosomes in these tumours have undergone a complex rearrangement that is identical for every animal studied. In light of this remarkable finding and of the known fighting behaviour of the devils2, we propose that the disease is transmitted by allograft, whereby an infectious cell line is passed directly between the animals through bites they inflict on one another.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Correspondence to A.-M. Pearse.

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Figure 1: Chromosomes of facial tumours from Tasmanian devils.


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