NATIONAL CENTER FOR CASE STUDY TEACHING IN SCIENCE A Devil of a Disease by

Abstract

In 1996, field researchers first noticed small, soft tissue lesions occurring on the face and heads of Sarcophilus harrisii, a spirited creature better known as the Tasmanian devil (Hawkins et al., 2006). Tasmanian devils are endemic to Tasmania, an island off the coast of Australia. Tasmanian devils are small marsupials weighing on average 10 kg (McGlashan et al., 2006) with an average life expectancy of 7–10 years. Male devils are generally larger than their female counterparts and are very aggressive. For example, during mating season males will often rip off chunks of flesh from each other’s faces as they vie for mates (McCallum et al., 2009). Devils are genetically similar due to eradication efforts during the 19 th century until the species was protected in 1941, followed by generations of inbreeding. There appears to be some genetic diversity between devils on different sides of the island. O’Neill (2010) and Siddle et al. (2010) correlate this genetic inbreeding with the increased homogeneity of immune-related major histocompatibility complex (MHC) among devils. The MHC loci control the recognition of self and non-self in species such as the Tasmanian devil and humans through the production of cell recognition proteins on cells involved in immunity. This homogeneity suggests that the MHC loci are more uniform and would restrict the organism from recognizing a large number of potential pathogens or foreign cells. Tasmanian devils face no natural predators, but habitat destruction and newly introduced species have impacted population numbers within the last decade. Similarly, cocktails of pesticides and herbicides are employed in Tasmania each year to increase crop yield. Thes

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oai:CiteSeerX.psu:10.1.1.381.2122Last time updated on 10/22/2014

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