Jul
08
2011

New hope for the Tasmanian Devil

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DNA testing and wild release on mainland Australia could offer new hope to the Tasmanian devil, which is at risk of extinction.

A facial tumour disease is killing the wild population in Tasmania and the low genetic diversity of the animal has been blamed for its inability to combat the disease.

However, scientists at Pennsylvania State University in the United States have been sequencing the genome of two Tasmanian devils and professor Stephan Schuster believes it is possible to boost genetic diversity.

He has developed a simple blood test to show genetic diversity and allow devils with different genes to be bred.

He decided to look for genetic diversity in the Tasmanian devils to stop them from having the same fate as the Tasmanian tiger. After mapping the genome of the two devils he realised the animals have enough genetic diversity to stave off extinction.

"I think there is absolutely no reason why the Tasmanian devil should be wiped off the face of the planet because it genetically still is fit enough to live," he told the ABC.

And at the University of Tasmania, Dr Menna Jones believes it is also critically important to have healthy devils living in the wild.

She has suggested establishing wild mainland populations rather than captive breeding programs is the best strategy for safeguarding the carnivorous marsupial's future.

"They're living as wild animals, they're retaining their natural behaviours and those animals are going to be the most suitable for repopulating the Tasmanian devil population," she explained.

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