Leeds helps in the fight for the endangered Tasmanian Devil

Leeds Museums and Galleries has three Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) in its natural science collections. Their DNA has been taken and looked at by a team in Australia who are researching ‘devil facial tumour disease’ in the hope of finding a cure for this terrible condition.
One of the brilliantly stuffed Tasmanian Devils at
Leeds Museums and Galleries
Leeds, a large, rich, Victorian industrial city, spent most of the 19th century collecting scientific material from around the world. We had a ‘purveyor of Australian wildlife’ and acquired, amongst other things, two Devil mounts and a skeleton.
The study, also using specimens from Oxford, looked at genetic diversity in a group of molecules in cell membrane proteins called the ‘major histocompatibility complex’. Low diversity in this complex has been linked to the emergence and spread of devil facial tumour disease. The team needed samples of historical and ancient Devil DNA to see how diverse the populations were before European settlement and after. (Link to the article,published in Biology Letters
This is a great example of how museum natural science specimens can contribute to scientific research at the forefront of species conservation.
By Natural Sciences Curator Clare Brown


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