Like most children, I spent my Saturday mornings watching Looney Tunes and learning invaluable life lessons such as:
- Guns don’t kill people, they just make your face black and your hair smoky. Unless you’re a duck in which case it will flip your bill around.
- Acme invests more in attorney fees than research and development.
- Fat, bald hunters with lisps are stupid.
- Coyotes never catch food and should be extinct out of sheer ineptness.
- Rocket roller skates look AWESOME!! Just don’t buy them from Acme as it will all go horribly wrong. Launching yourself out of a giant slingshot looks fun, too.
- Opera and children’s cartoons don’t mix.
- Keeping the cat that keeps trying to eat your bird takes a toll on your home owner’s insurance.
- Southern roosters are funny. And lazy. And big.
And, of course,
- Tasmanian Devils are whirling, swirling agents of mass destruction and will eat anything in it’s path. Like piranha on land. Fortunately, they’re also stupid as shit and will fall for every trick in the book.
Of course, I have since learned much of those things are not true (rocket roller skates, for example, really chafe your ankles). One of those being that the real life Tasmanian Devil is a cute, little rodent that is considered a national treasure in Tasmania. See? Tasmania? Tasmanian Devil? It’s from Tasmania but isn’t really a devil. I know. It’s confusing.
Look, no tornado for legs!
Anyway, back in 1996 a few devils were discovered with a new, rare and – more importantly – transmissible cancer. Since that first batch were found up to 90 percent of the devil population has been wiped out in certain areas. The cancer displays itself first as facial tumors that spread and enlarge, which then restricts the ability for them to breath and eat. Most die from starvation.
If the trend continues, officials say, the Tasmanian Devil will be extinct in 10 - 20 years. And the trend will continue as it appears the cancer is spread between the devils whenever they fight or mate.
Great. A cancer that spreads like a virus. Fucking fantastic.
So what are the geniuses who know such things doing about this? Glad you asked!
First, the Tasmanian government are going to take 200 cancer free devils and place them in quarantine. Just in case, you know, none of the other so called ‘solutions’ work. Consider it an insurance policy.
Second, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory based in New York (real close to Tasmania) ‘in collaboration with 454 Lifesciences is committing resources to sequence parts of the devil’s genome in an effort to increase the odds of saving them from extinction’. So they have that going for them.
What this means is CSHL is trying to figure what exactly this thing is. As they say ‘The process by which the disease spreads among the devils has only been seen once before and represents a new field in cancer biology’, which is comforting. Adding to the problem is the simplistic nature of the devil’s immune system. Since there is a lot of inbreeding, the devil’s system may not even recognize that the cancer is a foreign body and doesn’t attack it or defend itself. Even their immune systems are stupid!
By sequencing both the devil’s and cancer genes, researchers hope to have a better idea on how to fight it.
They’ll have help, too. Australia has offered use of it’s $200 million dollar synchrotron to help the devils. What’s a synchrotron? Hell if I know. Go to this link to get a better idea and take a look at the size of the friggin’ thing. If they can’t map out the genome of the devil or cancer, just put the healthy ones in this room and let them run around.
Dr. Jeff Church (who doesn’t sound Australian at all when you read his quotes) ‘says he will use the synchrotron to see if the disease causes any biochemical changes in the devils which could be detected in their hair before the disease becomes apparent’. He also says ‘The infra-red spectrum tells us about protein and fat structure and whether it’s changing, but the technology to do such work using a synchrotron is comparatively new, and the Australian facility is one of relatively few around the world where it is available’.
He sums up this crappy pep talk with ‘It might work or it might not’. Thanks, Doc!
But wait! There’s more. University of Adelaide zoologist Dr. Jeremy Austin is spearheading a government initiative to try and save the critters. Thankfully, this is the actual Tasmanian government and not some random country halfway around the world (Hello, CSHL!). Dr Austin?
‘We have lost over half our devils in the past 10 years, with an estimated population of 20,000 to 50,000 mature devils left. Extinction within the next 20 years is a real possibility unless we find a vaccine, eradicate the disease and establish captive colonies’.
So fear not, Taz fans. Mankind will use technology, ingenuity, and gobs of money in order to save the beloved Tasmanian Devil.
They’ll be wreaking havoc again in no time.
Today's distraction: A hilarious story about how Bill Clinton could pose problems for Hillary being appointed Secretary of State. What isn't mentioned, but is between the fine lines, is the fear he will be prowling the halls of the White House looking for the interns and anything else that has a vagina.