Oncogenesis as a Selective Force: Adaptive Evolution in the Face of a Transmissible Cancer

Nynke R., Thomas M. and Beata U.

Authors: Tracey Russell, Thomas Madsen, Frédéric Thomas, Nynke Raven, Rodrigo Hamede & Beata Ujvari

Source: BioEssays, Volume 40, Issue 3, March 2018

Brief summary of the paper: Similar to parasites, malignant cells exploit the host for energy, resources and protection, thereby impairing host health and fitness. Although cancer is widespread in the animal kingdom, its impact on life history traits and strategies have rarely been documented.

Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), a transmissible cancer, afflicting Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii), provides an ideal model system to monitor the impact of cancer on host life‐history, and to elucidate the evolutionary arms‐race between malignant cells and their hosts.

Here we provide an overview of parasite‐induced host life history (LH) adaptations, then both phenotypic plasticity of LH responses and changes in allele frequencies that affect LH traits of Tasmanian devils in response to DFTD are discussed.

We conclude that akin to parasites, cancer can directly and indirectly affect devil LH traits and trigger host evolutionary responses. Consequently, it is important to consider oncogenic processes as a selective force in wildlife.