The Details are in the Devil

3

Australia’s new $200m synchrotron in Melbourne could contribute to the fight to save the Tasmanian devil from the outbreak of facial tumour disease currently decimating devil populations, according to Dr Jeff Church from CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology in Geelong.

Dr Church says he will use the synchrotron to see if the disease causes any biochemical changes in the devils which could be detected in their hair before the disease becomes apparent.

“If we find a consistent change, it could lead to the development of a test which will allow detection of the cancer before the tumours become evident,” he says. “This would make any quarantine strategy easier to establish, as well as much more efficient.”

The idea is based on Australian research showing disease-related changes in the composition of human hair. The suggestion is that similar changes could occur in Tasmanian devils’ hair when the facial tumour disease is triggered. “But, the theory needs to be fully tested,” Dr Church says. “It might work or it might not.”

“If a diagnostic test for the facial tumour disease using the synchrotron does look possible, only having a machine nearby would make it viable. Having to queue-up for time on a synchrotron at least nine hours flying time from Tasmania – more likely further – would make the whole thing very difficult, particularly in terms of biosecurity concerns because we would need to transport biological samples between different countries.”

from a Eureka Alert press release

We figure Australian taxpayers wouldn’t mind schlepping a few of these $200 million babies out to the outback so they can be in place on the frontlines of the war on facial tumors afflicting carnivorous marsupials.

In related news, American scientists have announced plans to retask Fermilabs Tevitron 4-mile particle accelerator in order to investigate the efficacy of using top quarks to treat genital herpes lesions in ferrets.

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