Why did the dinosaurs go extinct? Because they didn't have a space program.
- Space exploration is more than just the ultimate adventure, our study and investigation of space yields great scientific rewards, says astronaut Garrett Reisman.
- Earth is wonderful, but it won't last forever, so it's important that we maintain a big picture view to ensure the survival of the human species.
- Exploring space is our ticket to "the ultimate plan B," according to Reisman. If there were to occur a mass extinction event on Earth, the humans that inhabit another planet in our solar system will be the only hope of human survival.
Devil facial tumor disease, or DFTD, has cut the Tasmanian devil population by 90 percent. Now, some devils have evolved to resist the virulent cancer.
- Devil facial tumor disease, or DFTD, is a transmissible cancer that Tasmanian devils spread through bites.
- The cancer is highly infectious and lethal, and the Tasmanian devil population has dropped by 90 percent since it was first discovered.
- In the short time that we've known about the disease, however, the devils seem to be evolving new defenses that are helping some of them fight back and survive.
A glimmer of hope<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTMzOTM3Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2ODg0MTM2OX0.CP6hmDbqYqe66j7jZ8bejiQwRj88ctO4mw1xFcpTaBk/img.jpg?width=980" id="1b5c1" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d469b6bf60ca409b3e06319003f877b9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A Tasmanian devil is seen in a trap after being captured in the wild to check for signs of DFTD. Photo credit: Adam Pretty / Getty Images<p>Since DFTD is a cancer, its nearly impossible to treat in wild animals — without opposable thumbs to mark off their calendars, Tasmanian devils have had trouble making their chemotherapy appointments. Some researchers have been working hard at crafting a <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-39226493" target="_blank">cancer vaccine</a> that, when injected, could prompt the devils' immune systems to attack the debilitating tumors.</p><p>However, it seems like the devils are bouncing back without little help from humans at all. Dr. Rodrigo Hamede from the University of Tasmania has been monitoring DFTD and Tasmanian devils for years now. "Natural selection is trying to fix the problem on its own by favoring those who can survive the tumor, so we're more hopeful these days than ever before," said Hamede to the <em><a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-47659640" target="_blank">BBC</a></em>. "We have witnessed how these tumors shape the ecology of devils and how they have been evolving with their hosts in real time."</p><p>Remarkably, in just 16 years — eight generations for Tasmanian devils — the devils have evolved to resist DFTD. Usually, DFTD kills devils within a year or slightly longer by making it difficult for them to eat or through metastases. However, Hamede's team has found some devils that have survived for two years with DFTD, enabling them to reproduce more frequently and give birth to young resistant to the disease. Even better, the team has recorded 23 cases of tumor regression, implying that some devils may be better equipped to fight against and recover from DFTD. </p><p>Taking these and other factors into account, Hamede's team conducted a forecast of the likely outcomes for the Tasmanian devil population based on the available data. Over the next 100 years, the researchers estimated that there was a 21 percent chance the Tasmanian devil would go extinct, a 22 percent chance the devils would coexist with DFTD, and a <a href="https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ecy.2613" target="_blank">57 percent chance</a> that the debilitating cancer would fade out of existence.</p> While this is all extremely encouraging, the Tasmanian devils aren't out of the woods yet. To ensure the survival of the species, a small population of cancer-free devils have been brought to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/science/saving-tasmanian-devils-from-extinction.html?smid=tw-nytimesscience&seid=auto&pagewanted=all&_r=0" target="_blank">Maria Island</a>, just three miles off the coast of Tasmania, which has no native population of Tasmanian devils. The same has been done in a facility in <a href="http://davewalshphoto.photoshelter.com/image/I0000oKK3rQfN4Lc" target="_blank">Hobart</a>, the capital of the Tasmanian island state. No matter whether the devils or their cancer wins out the fight, with any luck, the species will survive.