Monday, January 4, 2010

farmdoc's blog post number 624

Words are strange. Or rather, our use of them is. In everyday speech I never use the word parlous. Yet as I begin to write of the plight of the Tasmanian Devil, parlous pops into my mind as the perfect adjective. defines parlous as perilous or dangerous. Indeed it says the word dates from the Middle Ages (1350-1400) as a derivative of perilous. Whatever adjective you use, the Devil’s in desperate strife. The situation’s no better than last May when I wrote this. On the ground, anyway. But scientists in Australia and elsewhere are working on the nature of the devil facial tumour disease – from various viewpoints including epidemiology and biology, with a view to prevention and treatment. Recently an international group of researchers, including Tasmanians, published this week in the journal Science what’s probably the most major breakthrough so far. As reported in Tasmania [1], in Australia’s north island [2, 3] and overseas [4, 5], they analysed the tumour’s genetic makeup and found it originates in the Schwann nerve cells. Currently this discovery’s importance is hard to gauge. In the Science article, the researchers said that with no preventive vaccine, no diagnostic test and no treatment, the disease could wipe out the entire species in 25-35 years. Their work hopefully makes the devils’ predicament less parlous.

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