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Ancient history of canine cancer decoded

An ancient dog related to today’s Alaskan Malamute (shown) was probably the first to develop and pass on canine transmissible venereal tumor.

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Guest post by Tina Hesman Saey

A contagious cancer has been plaguing dogs for 11,000 years, a new genetic analysis reveals.

Canine transmissible venereal tumor probably originated in an ancient dog related to today’s Alaskan Malamute, scientists report in the Jan. 24 Science. The original carrier was probably a medium to large dog with a mixture of wolf-like and doglike characteristics and either a solid black coat or an unusual coat color called agouti, in which the tips of the hair are a different color from the shaft.

Unlike the Tasmanian devil facial tumor — the only other known contagious cancer — the venereal tumor doesn’t kill the animals it infects.

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