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Evolution of transmissible cancers in Tasmanian devils

   Department of Veterinary Medicine

  Prof Elizabeth Murchison  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Tasmanian devils are marsupial carnivores endemic to the Australian island of Tasmania. This species is affected by two transmissible cancers, known as devil facial tumour 1 (DFT1) and devil facial tumour 2 (DFT2). These cancers are contagious clonal cell lineages that spread between hosts by the transfer of living cancer cells during biting. Although allogeneic grafts, these cancers escape the immune system. These diseases are fatal to their hosts, and pose a significant threat to the species.

This PhD project will investigate the evolution and host interactions of DFT1 and DFT2. Single-cell RNAseq data and histological analysis will be used to characterise host cell contributions to the DFT1 and DFT2 tumour microenvironments. We will additionally analyse tumour genome data from a large panel of DFT1 and DFT2 tumours, together with matched bulk RNAseq, in order to understand how genetic variation contributes to changes in gene expression within the DFT1 and DFT2 lineages.

The project will provide significant new insights into the evolution of transmissible cancers. The project will primarily involve computational analysis of genome and transcriptome data. 

How to apply: Contact the Supervisor [] to discuss the project before submitting an official application. More details on the application process here: How to apply | Department of Veterinary Medicine (cam.ac.uk)

Funding Notes

Funding for the student is not available for this project so the successful student will be required to source funds for fees and maintenance themselves. In order to be considered for the Cambridge University Funding competition please ensure you apply ahead of the funding deadline (6th January 2022).


Further reading
1. Kwon YM, Gori K, Park N, Potts N, Swift K, Wang J, Stammnitz MR, Cannell N, Baez-Ortega A, Comte S, Fox S, Harmsen C, Huxtable S, Jones M, Kreiss A, Lawrence C, Lazenby B, Peck S, Pye R, Woods G, Zimmermann M, Wedge DC, Pemberton D, Stratton MR, Hamede R, Murchison EP. 2020 Evolution and lineage dynamics of a transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devils. PLOS Biology. Nov 24;18(11):e3000926. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000926. PMID: 33232318; PMCID: PMC7685465.
2. Stammnitz MR, Coorens THH, Gori KC, Hayes D, Fu B, Wang J, Martin-Herranz DE, Alexandrov LB, Baez-Ortega A, Barthorpe S, Beck A, Giordano F, Knowles GW, Kwon YM, Hall G, Price S, Pye RJ, Tubio JMC, V.T. Siddle HVT, Sohal, SS, Woods GM, McDermott U, Yang F, Garnett MJ, Ning Z, Murchison EP 2018 The origins and vulnerabilities of two transmissible cancers in Tasmanian devils. Cancer Cell. 33:607-619. doi: 10.1016/j.ccell.2018.03.013
3. Pye RJ, Pemberton D, Tovar C, Tubio JMC, Dun KA, Fox S, Darby J, Hayes D, Knowles GW, Kreiss A, Siddle HVT, Swift K, Lyons AB, Murchison EP, Woods GM 2016 A second transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devils. PNAS. 113(2): p. 374-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1519691113

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