A single clonal lineage of transmissible cancer identified in two marine mussel species in South America and Europe

Marisa A. Yonemitsu, Rachael M. Giersch, Maria Polo-Prieto, Maurine Hammel, Alexis Simon, Florencia Cremonte, Fernando T. Avilés, Nicolás Merino-Véliz, Erika Av Burioli, Annette F. Muttray, James Sherry, Carol Reinisch, Susan A. Baldwin, Stephen P. Goff, Maryline Houssin, Gloria Arriagada, Nuria Vázquez, Nicolas Bierne, Michael J. Metzger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Transmissible cancers, in which cancer cells themselves act as an infectious agent, have been identified in Tasmanian devils, dogs, and four bivalves. We investigated a disseminated neoplasia affecting geographically distant populations of two species of mussels (Mytilus chilensis in South America and M. edulis in Europe). Sequencing alleles from four loci (two nuclear and two mitochondrial) provided evidence of transmissible cancer in both species. Phylogenetic analysis of cancer-associated alleles and analysis of diagnostic SNPs showed that cancers in both species likely arose in a third species of mussel (M. trossulus), but these cancer cells are independent from the previously identified transmissible cancer in M. trossulus from Canada. Unexpectedly, cancers from M. chilensis and M. edulis are nearly identical, showing that the same cancer lineage affects both. Thus, a single transmissible cancer lineage has crossed into two new host species and has been transferred across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and between the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere47788
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2019


  • bivalve
  • bivalve transmissible neoplasia
  • cancer biology
  • infectious disease
  • microbiology
  • Mytilus
  • Mytilus chilensis
  • Mytilus edulis
  • transmissible cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology


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