Unlucky devils

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Science  21 Sep 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6408, pp. 1212-1213
DOI: 10.1126/science.361.6408.1212-g

Devil facial tumor 1 (DFT1) is a transmissible cancer that has devastated the Tasmanian devil population since it emerged in the 1990s. By losing major histocompatibility class I (MHC I) molecules, DFT1 cells have been able to evade detection as foreign by the host immune system. More recently, a second contagious cancer (DFT2) has emerged, further hampering efforts to preserve this species. Caldwell et al. report that DFT2 cells still express MHC I, but the cancer can spread because its most commonly expressed MHC I variants are either nonclassical or shared with host animals. Additionally, heterogenic MHC I expression in DFT2 tumors suggests that expression is not fixed and may gradually be lost, which may have devastating consequences for an already vulnerable population.

eLife 7, e35314 (2018).

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