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This blog is currently on hiatus owing to work commitments. Whilst I still keep an eye on the goings on at RiAus, and contribute to the work of the good folks at eLife, little will be added to this blog for the foreseeable future. Simon Says remains open for business, albeit at a reduced capacity. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the archive of content found here will prove to be of interest.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Transmissible cancer

I'VE been planning that Tasmanian Devil post for months, and spent much of the last few weeks researching, writing and tweaking it. So I was bemused to walk into work this morning, days after finally releasing it on the world, to find in our office a copy of the most recent Wellcome News, the cover of which is Elizabeth Murchison holding a Tasmanian devil skull. Inside is an article written by Murchison herself (part autobiography, part summary of research) and another entitled Catching Cancer, a feature on transmissible cancers and how they go against conventional thinking. I was wrong in one respect before: there are more than two known cases of transmissible cancer. I knew of the Tasmanian devil and of dogs, but it is not unheard of in hamsters and has been shown to be possible in us. The article is an excellent summary and I direct you there for your interest. Happy Monday :)

Source: Wellcome Trust newsletter Issue 62

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Save the Tasmanian Devil


THE FIVE devils in the pen below us bounded around happily with not a care in the world. They were small, fluffy bundles of energy, running around and around, almost skipping, happy-go-lucky and enjoying their freedom. Every so often they would fail to look where they were going and smack head-on into one of their friends - immediately they would stop, step back, assume an aggressive posture and growl for a second. But such aggression would be short-lived and they would be off again, bounding away. La la la! They were happy little devils.

This is a difficult post to write, for it is about a small marsupial that lives in Tasmania. Chances are that if you are reading this you live in Britain, or at least not in Tasmania. How, then, do I make you care about a creature that lives so far away, that is so far removed biologically and symbolically from our national consciousness? The Tasmanian devil? Some people I know don't even believe it exists at all, that it is an invention by folklore and Warner Bros.

But there is a creature, very much real, called the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii). And it is in serious trouble.