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A Devil of a Disease


Author(s)

Dylan P. Macuk
Department of Biology
Bradley University
William J. Moser, Jr.
Department of Biology
Bradley University
Kaleigh A. Tockes
Department of Biology
Bradley University
Keith A. Johnson
Department of Biology
Bradley University
kajohnso@bradley.edu

Abstract

Since its first recorded appearance in 1996, Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) has wiped out an estimated 70 percent of the Tasmanian devil population. Scientists considered bacterial, viral, chemical, parasitic, and genetic causes before determining that the animals were afflicted with a form of transmissible cancer. In this interrupted case study, students review the history of the disease and then use their understanding of the scientific method to recreate some of the thinking that scientists used to try to understand DFTD.  In addition to designing an experiment, students review some of the known causes of human cancer, genetic diversity and bottlenecks, karyotypes, and the potential for transmissible cancer to become zoonotic. Students also consider possible methods for containing and eliminating DFTD. Written by undergraduate biology students, the case is suitable for high school and freshman introductory biology classes. A more advanced treatment for upper-division undergraduates of many of the issues presented here can be found in another case study in our collection, "Poor Devils: The Plight of the Tasmanian Devils," by Annie Prud’homme Genereux.


Objectives

  • Review the scientific method.
  • Use critical thinking to deduce the cause of a curious effect.
  • Practice designing experiments and methods.
  • Employ scientific thinking in a non-standard context.

Keywords

Cancer; transmissible cancer; devil facial tumor disease; DFTD; canine transmitted venereal disease; major histocompatibility complex; MCI; Tasmanian devil; marsupial; Tasmania

Topical Areas

Scientific method

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division

Format

PDF

Type / Methods

Discussion, Interrupted

Language

English

Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Cell Biology  |   Genetics / Heredity  |  


Date Posted

10/30/2012

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Comments


Brendan Watts
brendan.watts152@schools.sa.edu.au
Science
Murray Bridge High School
Australia
10/30/2012
A great case, that is both locally relevant for our students and well crafted to include knowledge and skills from different sections of the curriculum. This will definitely become a useful educational tool. Thanks!

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