In vitro competition between two transmissible cancers and potential implications for their host, the Tasmanian devil

Anne-Lise Gérard, Rachel S Owen, Antoine M Dujon, Benjamin Roche, Rodrigo Hamede, Frédéric Thomas, Beata Ujvari, Hannah V Siddle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Since the emergence of a transmissible cancer, devil facial tumour disease (DFT1), in the 1980s, wild Tasmanian devil populations have been in decline. In 2016, a second, independently evolved transmissible cancer (DFT2) was discovered raising concerns for survival of the host species. Here, we applied experimental and modelling frameworks to examine competition dynamics between the two transmissible cancers in vitro. Using representative cell lines for DFT1 and DFT2, we have found that in monoculture, DFT2 grows twice as fast as DFT1 but reaches lower maximum cell densities. Using co-cultures, we demonstrate that DFT2 outcompetes DFT1: the number of DFT1 cells decreasing over time, never reaching exponential growth. This phenomenon could not be replicated when cells were grown separated by a semi-permeable membrane, consistent with exertion of mechanical stress on DFT1 cells by DFT2. A logistic model and a Lotka-Volterra competition model were used to interrogate monoculture and co-culture growth curves, respectively, suggesting DFT2 is a better competitor than DFT1, but also showing that competition outcomes might depend on the initial number of cells, at least in the laboratory. We provide theories how the in vitro results could be translated to observations in the wild and propose that these results may indicate that although DFT2 is currently in a smaller geographic area than DFT1, it could have the potential to outcompete DFT1. Furthermore, we provide a framework for improving the parameterization of epidemiological models applied to these cancer lineages, which will inform future disease management.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13670
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number3
Early online date10 Mar 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Mar 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • competition model
  • Lotka–Volterra model
  • Tasmanian devil
  • transmissible cancer


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