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

27 March 2023



Citizenship requirement


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


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $31,500 per annum (2023 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.


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

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

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select your project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Dr Nicholas Fountain-Jones to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. Submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • 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.
    • As part of your application, you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application 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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