New genetic study on the nearly extinct Tasmanian devil, found that 20 percent of the devils have a genetic make-up that could help them fight off the deadly facial tumour disease (DFTD).
The unique communicable cancer, DFTD has killed around 70 percent of the iconic carnivorous marsupial and may wipe out the whole species within decades.
The work by universities in Sydney and Tasmania which was released earlier today, however, showed that the devils' poor genetic diversity may be the key in maintaining their survival.
About 20 percent of devils that are found at the northwest of Tasmania carry only one or the other of 2 types of Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) genes but not a mix of both.
Devils that carry only one type of these genes which is located at the immune region of the genome can recognize and fight off DFTD cancer cells, which have both types.
Researchers state that individuals that have a restricted MHC repertoire may be capable of mounting an immune response to foreign antigens on DFTD cells.
The latest findings may implicate the efforts to save the Tasmanian devils as the national breeding programs planned to increase genetic diversity may be counterproductive.
Scientists conclude that If this proves to be correct, then genetic rescue programs are likely to be detrimental. The much better course of action is to isolate and protect the fortunate 20 percent of devils found at Tasmania's northwest.