-- Robert Preidt
FRIDAY, Jan. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists who
sequenced the genome of the world's oldest cancer say their
findings reveal the origin and evolution of the disease.
The transmissible genital cancer affects dogs, and it first
appeared in a single dog that lived about 11,000 years ago. The
cancer survived the death of that first host because the dog
transferred cancer cells to other dogs during mating, according to
The genome of this cancer -- which causes genital tumors on dogs
around the world -- has about 2 million mutations. That's many more
than are found in most human cancers, which typically have between
1,000 and 5,000 mutations.
"The genome of this remarkable long-lived cancer has demonstrated that, given the right conditions, cancers can continue to survive for more than 10,000 years despite the accumulation of millions of mutations," study author Dr. Elizabeth Murchison, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge in England, said in an institute news release.
The researchers also discovered that the genome of this cancer
still contained genetic variants of the first dog to have the
cancer. The dog likely had a short, straight coat and was either
grey/brown or black. It may have resembled an Alaskan Malamute or
Husky. It's not known if the dog was a male or female, but it was
"We do not know why this particular individual [dog] gave rise to a transmissible cancer," Murchison said. "But it is fascinating to look back in time and reconstruct the identity of this ancient dog whose genome is still alive today in the cells of the cancer that it spawned."
According to study senior author Sir Mike Stratton, director of
the Sanger Institute, "the genome of the transmissible dog cancer
will help us to understand the processes that allow cancers to
He explained in the news release that "although transmissible
cancers are very rare, we should be prepared in case such a disease
emerged in humans or other animals. Furthermore, studying the
evolution of this ancient cancer can help us to understand factors
driving cancer evolution more generally."
The Morris Animal Foundation has more about
dogs and cancer.
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