“Like the plot of a summer horror flick”: All along Canada’s Pacific coast, mussels are dying… Bodies are swollen by cancerous tumors — Unprecedented mutations allowing cancer to spread from one species to another like a virus — Scientists: “It’s beyond surprising” (VIDEO)

Published: July 7th, 2016 at 2:13 pm ET
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Washington Post, Jun 22, 2016 (emphasis added): All along the western Canadian coast, mussels are dying. Their blobby bodies are swollen by tumors. The blood-like fluid that fills their interiors is clogged with malignant cells. They’re all sick with the same thing: cancer. And it seems to be spreading. For all its harrowing, terrifying damage, the saving grace of cancer has always been that it dies with its host. Its destructive power comes from turning victims’ own cells against them and making them run amok. But when molecular biologist Stephen Goff biopsied these mussels, he found something strange. The tumor cells didn’t have the same DNA as their host. Instead, every mussel was being killed by the same line of cancerous cells, which were jumping from one individual to the next like a virus

National Geographic, Jun 23, 2016: It sounds like the plot of a summer horror flick: Malignant cells floating in the sea, ferrying infectious cancer everywhere they go. The story is all too true, say scientists who’ve made a discovery they call “beyond surprising.”… “The evidence indicates that the tumor cells themselves are contagious – that they can spread from one clam to another in the ocean,” says biochemist and immunologist Stephen Goff of Columbia University, co-author, along with Michael Metzger of Columbia, of a paper reporting the results in the journal Cell. These mussels are one of four species of mollusks affected. The mussels at Copper Beach in West Vancouver, Canada, are infected with the disease. This week the team reported new findings in the journal Nature. The transmissible cancer has been discovered in… mussels (Mytilus trossulus) in West Vancouver… Mytilus trossulus is the main native intertidal mussel in the northern Pacific. In North America, it’s found from California to Alaska… The cancer, it’s believed, originated in one unfortunate mollusk. It’s astounding, Goff says, that a leukemia that has killed countless clams traces to one incidence of the disease… What will happen in other mollusk species?  Ominously, says Goff, “It’s too soon to know.”

University of British Columbia, Jun 23, 2016: 1st contagious cancer that spreads between species — UBC scientists were involved in research that found the first contagious cancer that can spread between species, CBC News reported. The leukemia-like disease seems to be widespread among shellfish with hinged shells, or bivalves, like clams, mussels and cockles. Environment Canada scientists worked with UBC researchers to collect mussels in West Vancouver and Esquimalt, B.C. and test them for cancer.

CBC News, Jun 22, 2016: Contagious cancers are a scary idea to begin with, but scientists have made some startling new discoveries about them – they are likely more common in nature than originally thought, and some can even spread between species… Mussels living off the coast of British Columbia [are] prone to the contagious cancer… scientists reported Wednesday in Nature… Canadian scientists collected mussels in West Vancouver, above, and Esquimalt, B.C. They then took them back to the lab and screened them for cancer… Sherry worked with Reinisch and scientists at the University of British Columbia to collect mussels in West Vancouver and Esquimalt, B.C. Then they took them back to the lab and screened them for cancer… Samples that tested positive for leukemia were sent to Goff and his postdoctoral researcher Michael Metzger, lead author of the new paper, for genetic analysis. That analysis showed that not all the mussels with leukemia had a contagious cancer – in some cases, the cancer had developed from an individual’s own cells, as is typically the case. But contagious cancers were found in all three species, and were typically clones from a single individual… Stephen Goff, a professor of microbiology at Columbia University who also co-authored the new paper, is interested in finding out what mutations allowed the transmissible cancer to spread to other individuals.

Watch Columbia University’s video here

Published: July 7th, 2016 at 2:13 pm ET
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