A lethal marine cancer killing clams along the East Coast is contagious, new research suggests.
According to HealthDay News, citing findings published in Cell, scientists say they have traced leukemia outbreaks among soft-shell clams from New York to Canada back to one case of cancer that was transmitted to other clams.
“The evidence indicates that the tumor cells themselves are contagious — that the cells can spread from one animal to another in the ocean,” said researcher Stephen Goff, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Columbia University.
The findings, published April 9, suggest the tumor cells can survive in seawater long enough to reach and infect a new host.
The outbreak has devastated some populations of soft-shell clams for decades, HealthDay reports.
Goff said he and fellow researchers were astonished to realize the tumors did not arise from the cells of diseased host animals, but rather from a “rogue clonal cell line.”
Only two other contagious cancers are known to exist in the wild — the canine-transmissible venereal tumor and the Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease.
Read more: Cell