Widespread transmission of independent cancer lineages within multiple bivalve species

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Abstract

Most cancers arise from oncogenic changes in the genomes of somatic cells, and while the cells may migrate by metastasis, they remain within that single individual. Natural transmission of cancer cells from one individual to another has been observed in two distinct cases in mammals (Tasmanian devils1and dogs2,3), but these are generally considered to be rare exceptions in nature. The discovery of transmissible cancer in soft-shell clams (Mya arenaria)4suggested that this phenomenon might be more widespread. Here we analyse disseminated neoplasia in mussels (Mytilus trossulus), cockles (Cerastoderma edule), and golden carpet shell clams (Polititapes aureus) and find that neoplasias in all three species are attributable to independent transmissible cancer lineages. In mussels and cockles, the cancer lineages are derived from their respective host species; however, unexpectedly, cancer cells inP. aureusare all derived fromVenerupis corrugata, a different species living in the same geographical area. No cases of disseminated neoplasia have thus far been found inV. corrugatafrom the same region. These findings show that transmission of cancer cells in the marine environment is common in multiple species, that it has originated many times, and that while most transmissible cancers are found spreading within the species of origin, cross-species transmission of cancer cells can occur.

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