Tasmanian Devil pluripotent stem cells for research and species preservation

The Tasmanian devil is headed towards extinction in the wild due to the contagious facial tumour that has now spread throughout Tasmania.

We aim to apply the Nobel prize winning "induced pluripotent stem cell" (iPS) technology to produce pluripotent stem cell lines from the Tasmanian Devil (Takahashi and Yamanaka, 2006). Pluripotency is the unique property of stem cells that enables them to divide indefinitely and under specific conditions, differentiate into any specialised cell type – including sperm and oocytes that could be used in captive breeding programs.

Production of pluripotent stem cell lines will provide a guarantee against extinction, a valuable resource for studying the facial tumour and an inexhaustible source of gametes for species preservation by assisted reproduction; including artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilisation and therapeutic cloning.

This project is a collaboration between our laboratory, the Healesville Sanctuary, Zoos Victoria and the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.