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  • Hey it's me Destin, welcome back to Smarter Every Day.

  • There are two things in this world that bother me: number one, the fact that the Tasmanian devil

  • is about to go extinct because of a rapidly spreading face cancer, and you didn't know that,

  • and number two, the fact that the dude in charge of the immunization effort to save the Tasmanian devil

  • has never watched the Warner Brothers cartoon.

  • We've gotta fix these things! So today on Smarter Every Day, we're going to Tasmania

  • and I want the record to show that within two hours of an Alabama boy being on the ground,

  • we had a Tasmanian Devil in a sack.

  • Let's go get Smarter Every Day.

  • - This is Jocelyn, - Hi!

  • - And this is Alex. - Hello.

  • - Okay, so this facility is run by the University of Tasmania, correct?

  • - That's right, yeah.

  • - And the purpose of it is to study a disease that has been killing the Tasmanian Devil all over the island, right?

  • - That's right.

  • (Destin) Welcome to ground zero in the fight against the extinction of a species.

  • These guys deploy clever little pipe traps all over the island to monitor devils in order to understand why they're dying.

  • (Destin) So the devil would come in, grab the bait... (Alex) And then this would pull,

  • (Destin) Pull the string. (Alex) Pull the string and the pin,

  • (Alex) And then this pin locks it so it can't open.

  • (Destin) And at that point you've caught the devil. (Alex) That's right.

  • (Destin) Once you catch a devil in a pipe, you've got to look at its mouth, so Alex agreed to show me

  • how they look at their mouths on one of the more docile devils that they keep in captivity.

  • (Destin) So we're going to put a tasmanian devil in a burlap sack, or, as you call it, a hessian sack, (Alex) Yeah, that's right.

  • (Destin) And we're gonna check him for the... (Alex) Well, he had this tumor,

  • (Alex) This DFTD tumor in the gum, on the gum, that was removed...

  • (Destin) DFTD. (Alex) That's right. Devil Facial Tumor Disease.

  • (Destin) Devil Facial Tumor Disease. Okay, so we're gonna check

  • this tasmanian devil for the tumor.

  • (Alex) Yeah, so the tumor was removed two or three years ago,

  • so we are going just to check if the tumor hasn't grown back. (Destin) Okay.

  • (Alex) So we'll put him in the sack and see if he cooperates.

  • I can open his mouth, and have a good look in his mouth to see if there is no tumor.

  • (Destin) Great. So I'm going to help you catch a tasmanian devil? (Alex) Yes, yes.

  • (Alex chuckles)

  • (Destin) Where do you want me? (Alex) Well, if you can just hold the lid for me.

  • (Alex) And if we can just...

  • (Box creaking)

  • (Destin) Woah.

  • (Box creaking)

  • (Destin) So you're just going to hold his head?

  • Oh, you're going to grab his tail?

  • (Destin) Okay, so we've got to get to his mouth now. (Alex) Yep. Well, we'll try.

  • (Destin) So we have a Tasmanian devil in a sack.

  • (Destin) Is it transmissible to humans? (Alex) No.

  • (Destin) How do you know that? (Alex) A few people got stabbed with needles,

  • and tumors never grew, so...

  • (Destin) Wow.

  • (Alex) So I sort of am covering his eyes, so he can't see,

  • but I have access to his mouth.

  • (Destin) Where would the tumors be? (Alex) I think this tumor originally

  • was on this side here, but he doesn't have any sign of a tumor there now.

  • (Destin) You really love them, don't you? (Alex) Yeah.

  • (Alex) We don't have any sign of devils becoming immune to the disease,

  • so it seems that, where the disease arrives, the population just declines, by that extent,

  • and whenever a devil gets DFTD, that devil, it doesn't survive.

  • (Destin) Why have I not heard about this? A cancer with a 100% mortality rate.

  • That's a huge deal! In order to understand it more thoroughly, let's go to the University of Tasmania

  • and speak with Professor Greg Woods, who's working on a vaccine to beat it.

  • (Prof. Woods) It's a tumor, that occurs in Tasmanian devils, and it starts in the face,

  • so it's called Devil Facial Tumor Disease.

  • (Destin) And why is this a threat? (Prof. Woods) It is a threat because

  • it is a really rare cancer, it's a contagious cancer, and, so far, it's wiped out about eighty to ninety percent

  • of the remaining Tasmanian devil population.

  • (Destin) Are you serious? In how long? (Prof. Woods) In less than 20 years.

  • (Destin) Wow. It's almost killed it in 20 years. (Prof. Woods) It's almost wiped out the entire species, yeah.

  • (Destin) What is this you have on your screen here? (Prof. Woods) So, this is a map of the DFTD distributions.

  • So, it started in the far northeast corner of Tasmania,

  • and it's been moving south and west ever since.

  • (Destin) So this is like the ripple of death. (Prof. Woods) The ripple of death, yeah.

  • (Destin) You can see it going down the island. (Prof. Woods) You can see it moving down the island.

  • Every year it moves 10 to 20 kilometers.

  • (Destin) Can you show me what it does? Do you have a picture or something?

  • (Destin) So this is a Tasmanian devil head? (Prof. Woods) This is a healthy devil.

  • (Destin) Okay. (Prof. Woods) Now, the other half of this devil has got a small tumor.

  • Now, you can just see the tumor there. So, that's a very early tumor.

  • (Prof. Woods) In one single devil, in fact, it was a female devil,

  • (Destin) That would be patient zero, right? (Prof. Woods) That would be patient zero.

  • (Prof. Woods) It's gone from a single cell in a single devil to about, maybe 100,000 devils have now been killed

  • (Prof. Woods) by this cancer. (Destin) Oh, wow.

  • (Prof. Woods) So, it's like a clonal proliferation of... (Destin) So it's like the game of Life, only death.

  • (Prof. Woods) The game of death, yeah.

  • (Prof. Woods) Any devil that gets it, dies from it. (Destin) Really.

  • (Prof. Woods) It's 100% kill rate. (Destin) What's the cause of death?

  • (Prof. Woods) They just can't see, so they won't be able to eat. (Destin) So they starve to death.

  • (Prof. Woods) So this is the healthy side, (Destin) Okay.

  • (Prof. Woods) And this is the diseased side. I don't know if you can see straight away,

  • but you can see there, there's a hole. The cancer cells are producing enzymes which are digesting the bone

  • and if we open up the jaw... (Destin) The canine tooth is gone.

  • (Prof. Woods) The canine tooth's gone, so he still can't obviously eat as well.

  • (Destin) That's amazing. (Prof. Woods) And these canine teeth, they are what

  • they'll bite each other with. So they'll bite another devil...(Destin) Oh, so that tooth will be infected.

  • (Prof. Woods) This tooth will be, yeah, this tooth will have tumor cells on it. Alright? (Destin) Wow.

  • (Prof. Woods) So what will happen is, a few tumor cells there, it will bite the other devil, and inoculate a few tumor cells.

  • Greg says they transmit the disease by biting each other on the face, which is really bad news for the

  • Tasmanian devil, because all the locals told me that's how they say hello.

  • I wanted to verify this for myself, so I went to the local zoo

  • may or may not have lowered my camera into the pen. Don't tell on me.

  • (Tasmanian devil sniffing)

  • (Destin) Well, this explains how you guys transmit DFT...wow!

  • Okay, so I'm learning. So they transmit DFTD, Devil Facial Tumor Disease, by biting each other.

  • Watch this, I'm just gonna stick the camera near him.

  • This is just what they do, they just bite.

  • All the time.

  • Why are you biting my camera?

  • Don't you know you'll get cancer like that?

  • (plastic chomping sounds) Woah!

  • (Zookeeper) Just watch those cameras. Bring the cameras up. Yeah, don't - you'll lose the camera,

  • You'll lose the lens and everything.

  • (Destin) They'll eat it? (Zookeeper) Nothing over the side. (Destin) Okay, thank you.

  • (Destin) How are you trying to defeat the cancer? What is the mechanism? What are you doing?

  • (Prof. Woods) Well the ultimate mechanism is to produce a vaccine. So to understand that, we need to

  • understand the devil's immune system, we have to understand the tumor,

  • we need to know how to make the tumor become more visible to the devil's immune system.

  • (Destin) These guys are not just talking the talk. They're making huge discoveries.

  • DFTD is a specific type of cancer that affects the cells in the nervous system called Schwann cells.

  • Prior to their research, human Schwann cell cancers were super rare and often misdiagnosed.

  • I'll let these guys humbly explain something they did which could easily save the life of someone you love in the future.

  • (Scientist) The normal cells compared to the cancer cells. (Destin) Wow, so you've actually identified the boundary here. That's interesting.

  • (Scientist) Yes, because we have a marker for the tumor, so [it] only strains DFTD tumor cells.

  • (Destin) You created the marker for the tumor?(Scientist) We discovered the tumor - the marker.

  • (Destin) You discovered the marker? (Scientist) Yeah, we did.

  • (Destin) How long ago did you do that? (Scientist) That was, like, three years ago? (Prof. Woods) Three years ago.

  • (Destin) Other cancers, like human cancers, it wouldn't stain? (Prof. Woods) It would stain human Schwann cell cancers, yeah.

  • (Prof. Woods) We discovered this in the devil and we actually got it to work on human cancers, so it will help diagnosis.

  • (Destin) No way. So you discovered this staining method for the Tasmanian devil, and then you've applied that

  • research to medical research for humans. (Prof. Woods) Yeah. Yeah.

  • (Prof. Woods) It's just a way to... (Destin) Do you know what this is? Yeah!

  • (Destin) It's a good thing! That's awesome. (Prof. Woods) It all adds up. It all goes together. (Destin) That's great.

  • (Destin) I hope you enjoyed this episode of Smarter Every Day. I'm about to do a really honest advertisement

  • advertisement here. I want to say thank you the sponsor of this video, which is Harrys.com. They make razors,

  • and I used these razors long before they decided to sponsor Smarter Every Day, but the fact that they're

  • sponsoring Smarter Every Day is pretty impressive. They could, like, sponsor hot bloggers and stuff, they're

  • sponsoring a dude going to Tasmania and talking about a disease that's affecting a species. That's cool.

  • Thank you Harry's. If you're interested in getting a razor, go to harrys.com, use the promo code "smarter", I think

  • it's worth it. I'm going to use a portion of this sponsorship to make a personal donation to the

  • Devil Facial Tumor Disease research fund at the University of Tasmania by going to the links in the

  • video description, so, please consider doing that yourself as well. I want the knowledge of Devil Facial

  • Tumor Disease to spread faster than the disease itself, so, please consider sharing this video, if this added value

  • to your life, consider subscribing to Smarter Every Day, or don't, whatever. Thank you so much, I'm Destin,

  • you're getting Smarter Every Day, have a good one. (beep)

  • (Prof. Woods) And any philanthropists out there, this is an absolutely perfect project to be involved in.

  • Actually saving a species. Can you imagine that? (Destin) Yeah.

  • (Prof. Woods) Saving a species. (Destin) That's cool.

  • (beep) (Destin) I noticed there's not a single Tasmanian devil cartoon on the wall, anywhere here.

  • I expected that when I walked in. (Prof. Woods) No, no, in fact I've never seen the cartoon.

  • (Destin) Have you not? (Prof. Woods) I have not seen it. I've seen a picture of it.

  • (Destin) Are you serious? (Prof. Woods) I've never watched the cartoon.

  • (Destin) And you're the man that's trying to save it. (Prof. Woods) I've never watched the cartoon, no.

  • (Destin) He's never seen the Tasmanian devil cartoon. (Prof. Woods) I'm - I haven't watched the cartoon.

  • (Prof. Woods) Have you watched... (Jocelyn) Are you serious?

  • (Prof. Woods) Seriously! What would I watch the cartoon for?

  • (Destin) I don't want to force you to watch the cartoon.

  • (Prof. Woods) I'm a nerd you know, I don't watch cartoons. (laughter)

  • (Destin) Greg is too proud to watch the Tasmanian devil cartoon, even though he's the man in the world that's trying to save it.

  • This is very interesting.

  • (faint cartoon sounds - Tasmanian devil spinning up like a tornado)

  • (Prof. Woods) Is that it?

  • (Destin) That's it. That's the Tasmanian devil.

  • (laughs) You've never seen that?