Tasmanian devils are dying at an alarming rate from a type of tumor that appears to be contagious. What scientists are learning while researching the Tasmanian devil has potential to affect all animals, and even humans, as they learn more about how to prevent and hopefully eradicate certain genetic diseases.
In 1995, a deadly disease began sweeping across the Australian island state of Tasmania, killing every infected Tasmanian devil. The disease moved so fast that some scientists feared the species would be wiped out in the wild within a few decades.
Where did this disease, named Devil Facial Tumor Disease, come from? What caused it—a virus, bacteria, or something else? How did it pass from one devil to another? What could be done to fight it?
When author Dorothy Hinshaw Patent learned of the race to save the devil from her friend, Australian geneticist Jenny Graves, she felt compelled to travel to Australia to learn firsthand from scientists what they were finding out about these iconic Tasmanian animals and what they were doing to help it from disappearing in the wild.