Infectious cancer found in clams

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Science  10 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6231, pp. 170
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6231.170

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Soft-shell clams along North America's east coast suffer from a fatal leukemia-like condition. Researchers report this week that the cancer is transmissible, a phenomenon previously known only in dogs and Tasmanian devils. The finding suggests that transmissible cancers may be more common than was thought. Following up on the discovery of retrotransposon, called Steamer, the researchers found genetic similarities among the cancer cells in clams from various parts of the coast. The cancer cells' DNA did not match the genomes of the clams they afflict, further suggesting that all the cancer cells derive from one primordial immune cell gone rogue, which then spread from clam to clam. Questions remain about how the disease is transmitted and how the cancer cells escape the clams' immune systems.