Tasmanian Devil

Coevolutionary Genomics of Tasmanian Devils and their Transmissible Cancer


Tasmanian devils are now threatened with extinction by an infectious cancer. Since its discovery in 1996, Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) has swept over 95% 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 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 after epizootics 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.

Representative Publications:
Patton, A.H., M.J. Margres, M.E. Jones, S. Hendricks, A. Stahlke, K. Lewallen, R.K Hamede, M. Ruiz- Aravena, H. I. McCallum, O. Ryder, P.A. Hohenlohe and A. Storfer. 2019. Contemporary demographic reconstruction methods are robust to genome quality: A case study in Tasmanian devils. Molecular Biology and Evolution. doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msz191

Storfer, A., P.A. Hohenlohe, M.J. Margres, H.I. McCallum, A.H. Patton, A.K. Fraik, M. Lawrance, L. Ricci, A. Stahlke, M.E. Jones 2018. The devil is in the details: Genomics of a transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devils. PLoS Pathogens. doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1007098

Margres, M.J., M. Jones, B Epstein†, S. Comte, S. Fox…A. Storfer 2018. Large-effect loci affect survival in Tasmanian devils infected with a transmissible cancer. Molecular Ecology 27: 4189. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.14853

Margres, M.J., M. Ruiz, R. Hamede, M. Jones, M. Lawrance, S.A. Hendricks, A. Patton, B.W. Davis, E. A. Ostrander, H. McCallum, P.A. Hohenlohe and A. Storfer 2018. The genomic basis of tumor regression in Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii). Genome Biology and Evolution. https://doi.org/10.1093/gbe/evy229.

Epstein, B., M Jones, R Hamede, S Hendricks, H McCallum, EP Murchison, B Schönfeld, C Wiench, P Hohenlohe and A Storfer. 2016. Rapid evolutionary response to a transmissible cancer. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5084

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