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article imageContagious cancers spreading among shellfish

By Tim Sandle     Jun 29, 2016 in Environment
Transmission of cancers between marine animals is more common than biologists had realized. New data suggests that cancers are spreading at a growing level between shellfish.
The new data about cancer rates for marine life has come from research performed at the Columbia University Medical Center. The study reveals that many several species of bivalves, such as mussels, cockles, and clams can transmit cancer. Here cancer cells from contagious cells can spread from animal to animal via sea water.
What is of interest is that direct transmission of cancer is very rare. Most cancers cannot be ‘caught’ like a bacterial or viral infection. To date, cancer transmission has been observed in only two animal species.
The mechanism of transfer forms the core of the new research. The researchers took DNA of cancers and normal tissue from species of mussels (Mytilus trossulus), cockles (Cerastoderma edule), and golden carpet shell clams (Polititapes aureus). The creatures were collected from the waters around Canada and Spain.
The findings showed that cancers in the marine creatures were cause by transmission, via water, from one infected creature to another. That is the cancers in one diseases sea creature were shown to be independent clones of cancer cells that were genetically distinct from their host.
Not only could cancers be transferred between the same species, there was also evidence of transfer between different species in the case of the carpet shell clam. Previously no case of cross-species cancer transmission had been recorded. This sparked Discovery News (@DNews) to tweet: "Cells of a leukemia-like disease in shellfish is found to come from other individuals, even other species."
The type of cancer is disseminated neoplasia. This is a leukemia-like disease, and occurs worldwide in marine creatures. A related finding indicates that a new marine animal is vulnerable to cancer transmission. This is the soft shell clam (Mya arenaria).
The research is of importance in terms of marine conservation and in terms of protecting a food source.
The research was led by Professor Stephen Goff and the findings are published in the journal Nature. The research is titled “Widespread transmission of independent cancer lineages within multiple bivalve species.”
More about shellfish cancer, Cancer, Shellfish
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