Famously feisty

The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), now listed as endangered, is a carnivorous marsupial. The size of a small dog, the Tasmanian devil became the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world following the extinction of the thylacine in 1936.

Tasmanian devil, photo by Mathias Appel [CC BY-NC 2.0], via flickr.com

Tasmanian devil is related to quolls, and distantly related to the thylacine. It is characterised by its stocky and muscular build, black fur, pungent odour, extremely loud and disturbing screech, keen sense of smell, and ferocity when feeding. The Tasmanian devil's large head and neck allow it to generate one of the strongest bites per unit body mass of any extant predatory land mammal. It hunts prey and scavenges on carrion.


Although devils are usually solitary, they sometimes eat and defecate together in a communal location. Despite its rotund appearance, it is capable of surprising speed and endurance, and can climb trees and swim across rivers. Devils are not monogamous. Males fight one another for females, and guard their partners to prevent female infidelity. Females can ovulate three times in as many weeks during the mating season, and 80% of two-year-old females are seen to be pregnant during the annual mating season.


Tasmanian Devils are wholly protected. They are listed as ‘endangered’ under Tasmania’s Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 (May 2008); the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (May 2009) and are placed on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (2008).


Tasmanian devils declined in population over 3,000 years ago due to the introduction of the dingo, a pack animal that pushed the Tasmanian devil out of mainland Australia. Furthermore, in Tasmania, the island state that most Tasmanian devils currently call home, the animals are threatened by a transmissible, painful and fatal disease called Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD) — one of only a few known contagious cancers — which decimated up to 90 percent of the wild population of Tasmanian devils. Habitat destruction adds yet another stress to the species’ persistence.


The chromosome-length assembly we share today is based on the draft assembly (Devil_ref v7.0 aka sarHar1) published by Elizabeth Murchison et al. back in 2012 (1). This draft assembly was scaffolded with 442,235,972 PE Hi-C reads generated by DNA Zoo labs using 3D-DNA (Dudchenko et al., 2017) and Juicebox Assembly Tools (Dudchenko et al., 2018). See our Methods page for more details. Check out the interactive map below for the information on how the 7 chromosomes of the Tasmanian devil fold inside the nucleus based on the generated Hi-C data. Note that several more references for the Tasmanian devil are now available to the scientific community.


We gratefully acknowledge the tissue samples provided by the Ranger Red’s Zoo & Conservation Park and the collaboration with Natasha Tay, Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University towards tissue preparations. The Hi-C work was enabled by resources provided by DNA Zoo Australia, The University of Western Australia (UWA) and DNA Zoo, Aiden Lab at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) with additional computational resources and support from the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.


Citations:

  1. Murchison et al 2012. Genome sequencing and analysis of the Tasmanian devil and its transmissible cancer. Cell. 2012 Feb 17;148(4):780-91. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.11.065.

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