Devils, Chromosomes and Cancer

This is a good follow-up activity to the Tasmanian Devil Karyotype, where students examine how the chromosomes of cancerous cells can be altered. It is a short read about a transmissible cancer found in Tasmanian devils which causes facial tumors.

This cancer, known as is has already killed 85% of the overall population and threatens the species with extinction. The cancer is known as “Devil facial tumor disease.”

The article focuses on the cell biology of the cancer, and how cancer cells have unique properties, such as mutated and duplicated chromosomes (karyotype is shown) and do not seem to age.

The cells are immortal because the telomeres do not shorten with each cell division. There are a lot of concepts in the read to unpack, and though the reading is short, there is room for discussion about senescence, cancer, and how you could save a species that is on the verge of extinction.

Time Required: 15-25 minutes
Grade Level: 9-12