Most people would presume the safest place to survive the imminent Zombie apocalypse would be in an underground bunker. This erroneous conclusion has led to the untimely death of a large number of soft-shelled clams – admittedly not by Zombieism itself, but its closely related cousin: transmissible and highly contagious cancer.

Copyright Bailey PeckHemic neoplasia, a leukemia-like disease, is a fatal cancer subtype in soft-shelled clams with varying prevalence and fatality rates along the Atlantic coast of North America. The highest incidence is near New Bedford Harbor, MA, an EPA superfund site with high levels of carcinogens in the sediment and water column. Recently, Metzger et al. (Cell, 2015) discovered that hemic neoplasia is not caused by viral infection as previously thought, but by cancer cells traveling from clam to clam. This was evidenced by identical clonal genotypes found in clams separated by hundreds of miles. These cancer cells were also shown to have unique genotypes compared to the matched non-cancer tissue, suggesting a single origin of the cancer cells rather than novel somatic mutations.

Hemic neoplasias are not unique to soft-shelled clams, but occur in many other bivalve species including mussels, cockles and oysters. However, transmission methods in these species have not yet been investigated. Given that transmissible cancers had previously only been described twice before, researchers now find that transmissible cancers may be more widespread than previously thought.

This just gives us die hard Zombie apocalypse preppers one more thing to worry about. If we don’t go by fungal infection,by a parasite, or even through some virus unearthed and revived due to global warming (thanks for that fear Ng et al., 2014), now we have to worry about dying the same way as 8.2 million people worldwide each year – cancer.

Edited by Chris Givens, Nicole Baker, and Erinn Brigham

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This article was co-published on the TIBBS Bioscience Blog.

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