Tracing the spread of cancer in devils

Tracing the spread of cancer: phylogenetics, immunity and evolution in competing cancer epidemics in Tasmanian devils

Degree type


Closing date

1 February 2024



Citizenship requirement

Domestic / International


$32,192pa for 3.5 years

About the research project

Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) are threatened by two independently evolved transmissible cancers, devil facial tumour disease (DFTD, first detected in 1996) and devil facial tumour 2 (DFT2, first detected in 2014).  The epidemiological interactions between these two transmissible cancers have the potential to result in genetic and phenotypic adaptations, leading to an evolutionary arms race between devils and tumour lineages. Quantifying the effects of devil-tumour traits and evolutionary interactions on susceptibility or resilience to infection, and how they impact disease progression and epidemic behaviour is critical for developing enduring conservation strategies.

The project aims to build new bioinformatic tools to monitor these competing cancer outbreaks in the wild. It will focus on two populations differentially impacted by both tumours, the original population where DFT2 was first documented and has been co-circulating with DFTD for 8 years and another population at the front of DFT2 expansion. The project will harness recent advances in long-read sequencing and genomic epidemiology to capture unprecedented insights into how these tumours are transmitting, competing and evolving in real-time. This project will quantify how wild populations adapt to infectious disease outbreaks, and more specifically to carcinogenic processes, with direct benefits for species conservation and disease management.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Nicholas Fountain-Jones


The successful applicant will receive a scholarship which provides:

  • a living allowance stipend funded by ARC of $32,192 per annum (2024 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.

Other funding opportunities and fees

For further information regarding other scholarships on offer, and the various fees of undertaking a research degree, please visit our Scholarships and fees on research degrees page.


Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Ensure your eligibility for the scholarship round by referring to our Key Dates.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • Applicants must be able to undertake the project on-campus

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • A good understanding of the fields of epidemiology, quantitative ecology and evolutionary biology
  • Proficiency in wet-lab techniques such as DNA extraction and quantification
  • Quantitative analyses of epidemiological data
  • Ability to work with large genetic data sets
  • Ability to work as part of an interdisciplinary team

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Interest in assisting with wildlife surveys

Application process

  1. Select your project, and check that you meet the eligibility and selection criteria, including citizenship;
  2. Contact Dr Nicholas Fountain-Jones to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. In your application:
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • Submit a signed supervisory support form, a CV including contact details of 2 referees and your project research proposal.
  4. Apply prior to 1 February 2024.

Full details of the application process can be found under the 'How to apply' section of the Research Degrees website.

Following the closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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