Sir Ronald Fisher Lecture 2019: Saving the Tasmanian Devil from Extinction

Prof Kathy Belov AO Tasmanian Devil

Twenty years ago, a new disease emerged in Tasmania that threated the iconic Tasmanian devil with extinction.

We determined that the disease was caused by a contagious cancer that was spread as an allograft by biting. The tumour spread quickly due to low levels of genetic diversity in the species and the tumours capacity to evade the immune system.

Over 85% of the species was lost. Yet - although predicted, extinction has not occurred. Both devils and tumours evolved. The age structure of devil populations changed. Devils persisted in the wild, albeit in small, isolated populations.

In this lecture, Professor Kathy Belov will discuss the role that genomics has played in understanding devils and the disease. She will explain how we have used genomics to manage genetic diversity within Australia’s largest captive breeding program and how we are now using insurance population animals for genetic rescue of populations in the wild.

Beyond that, Professor Belov will talk about how we are leveraging this approach to conserve an additional 50 threatened Australian species.

Tagged in For everyone, Research seminar, For researchers, For current students