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Department of Veterinary Medicine

Cambridge Veterinary School

Studying at Cambridge


Dr Elizabeth Murchison

Dr Elizabeth Murchison

Reader in Comparative Oncology and Genetics

Wellcome Trust Investigator

Elizabeth Murchison is accepting applications for PhD students.

Office Phone: +44-(0)-1223-766-497

Subject groups/Research projects

Genetics and Oncology:

Transmissible cancers in dogs and Tasmanian devils

Research Interests

The Transmissible Cancer Group at the Department of Veterinary Medicine works on the genetics and evolution of transmissible cancers. There are only three known naturally occurring clonally transmissible cancers and these are the Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), the canine transmissible venereal tumour (CTVT) and the disseminated neoplasia of soft-shell clams. These cancers are transmitted between individuals by the transfer of living cancer cells. DFTD is transmitted between Tasmanian devils by biting and CTVT is spread between dogs during coitus. DFTD is threatening its host, the Tasmanian devil, with extinction. We use genetics, genomics and molecular biology to understand the origins, evolution and disease dynamics of the DFTD and CTVT clones. We also study genetic factors influencing host susceptibility, disease pathogenesis and treatment responses. We aim to understand how DFTD and CTVT have emerged and adapted to their hosts with the goal of developing DFTD and CTVT treatment options and using transmissible cancers to gain general insights into cancer evolution. Our research is supported by a Wellcome Trust New Investigator Award.

Please visit our Transmissible Cancer Group lab website here:

Elizabeth Murchison’s TED talk entitled "Fighting a contagious cancer"

Prizes, Honours and Awards

  • Honourable Mention: Genetics Society of America Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award of the Gruber Foundation, 2016
  • Philip Leverhulme Prize, 2014
  • Cancer Research UK Future Leaders in Cancer Research Prize, 2014
  • BACR-AstraZeneca Young Scientist Frank Rose Award, 2014
  • Genetics Society Balfour Prize Lecture, 2014
  • Eppendorf Young Investigator Award, 2012
  • MRC Jewellery Heirloom Award, 2012
  • L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship, 2009


Transmissible Cancer Group members

Andrea Strakova

Maire Lawlor

Maximilian Stammnitz

Adrian Baez-Ortega

Tracy Wang

Young Mi Kwon


  • the canine transmissible venereal tumour (CTVT)
  • Transmissible cancers
  • Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease (DFTD)

Key Publications


StrakovaA, Ni Leathlobhair M, Wang G-D, Yin T-T, Airikkala-Otter I, Allen JL, Allum KM, Bansse-Issa L, Bisson JL, Castillo Domracheva A,  de Castro KF, Corrigan AM, Cran HR, Crawford JT, Cutter SM, Delgadillo Keenan L, Donelan EM, Faramade IA, Flores Reynoso E, Fotopoulou E, Fruean SN, Gallardo-Arrieta F, Glebova O, Häfelin Manrique RF, Henriques JJGP, Ignatenko N, Koenig D, Lanza-PereaM, Lobetti R, Lopez Quintana AM, Losfelt T, Marino G, Martincorena I, Martínez Castañeda S, Martínez-López MF, Meyer M, NakanwagiB, De Nardi AB, Neunzig W, NixonSJ, Onsare MM, Ortega-PachecoA, Peleteiro MC, PyeRJ, ReeceJF, Rojas Gutierrez J, Sadia H, Schmeling SK, Shamanova O, Ssuna RK, Steenland-Smit AE, Svitich A, Thoya Ngoka I, Vițălaru BA, de Vos AP, de Vos JP, Walkinton O, Wedge DC, Wehrle-Martinez AS, van der Wel MG, Widdowson SAE and MurchisonEP 2015 Mitochondrial genetic diversity, selection and recombination in a canine transmissible cancer. eLife. 17 May 2016; DOI: 10.7554/eLife.14552

Ferreira de Castro K, Strakova A, Tinucci Costa M, Murchison EP 2015 Evaluation of a genetic assay for canine transmissible venereal tumour diagnosis in Brazil. Veterinary and Comparative Oncology. DOI: 10.1111/vco12205

Pye RJ, Pemberton D, Tovar C, Tubio JMC, Dun KA, Fox S, Darby J, Hayes D, Knowles GW, Kreiss A, Siddle HVT, Swift K, Lyons AB, Murchison EP, Woods GM 2015 A second transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devils. PNAS. pii: 201519691.


Hamede RK, Pearse AM, Swift K, Barmuta LA, Murchison EP, Jones ME 2015 Transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devils: localised lineage replacement and host population response. Proc. Royal Society B. 282(1814). pii: 20151468

Strakova A and Murchison EP 2015 The cancer which survived: insights from the genome of an 11,000 year-old cancer. Current Opinion in Genetics and Development. 30:49-55

Villar D, Berthelot C, Aldridge S, Rayner TF, Lukk M, Pignatelli M, Park TJ, Deaville R, Erichsen JT, Jasinska AJ, Turner JMA, Bertelsen MF, Murchison EP, Flicek P, Odom DT 2015 Enhancer evolution across twenty mammals. Cell. 160:554-566


Strakova A and Murchison EP 2014 The changing global distribution and prevalence of canine transmissible venereal tumour. BMC Vet Res. Sept 3;10:168

Murchison EP, Wedge DC, Alexandrov LB, Fu, B, Martincorena I, Ning Z, Tubio JMC, Werner EI, Allen J, Barboza de Nardi A, Donelan EM, Marino G, Fassati A, Campbell PJ, Yang F, Burt A, Weiss RA, Stratton MR (2014) Transmissible dog cancer genome reveals the origin and history of an ancient cell lineage. Science. Jan 24;343(6169):437-40


Murchison EP, Schulz-Trieglaff OB, Ning Z, Alexandrov LB, Bauer MJ, Fu B, Hims M, Ding Z, Ivakhno S, Stewart C, Ng BL, Wong W, Aken B, Alsop A, Becq J, Bignell GR, Cheetham RK, Cheng W, Connor TR, Cox AJ, Feng Z, Gu Y, Grocock RJ, Harris SR, Khrebtukova I, Kingsbury Z, Kowarsky M, Kreiss A, Luo S,  Marshall J, McBride DJ, Murray L, Pearse AM, Raine K, Rasolonjatovo I, Shaw R, Tedder P, Tregidgo C, White S, Woods GM, Gormley N, Humphray S, Schroth G, Smith G, Hall K, Searle S, Carter N, Papenfuss AT, Futreal PA, Campbell P, Yang F, Bentley DR, Evers DJ and Stratton MR (2012) Genome sequencing and analysis of the Tasmanian devil and its transmissible cancer. Cell. Feb 17;148(4):780-91

Bender HS, Murchison EP, Pickett HA, Deakin JE, Strong MA, Conlan C, McMillan DA, Neumann AA, Greider CW, Hannon GJ, Reddel RR and Graves JAM (2012) Extreme telomere length dimorphism in the Tasmanian devil and related marsupials suggests parental control of telomere length. PLoS ONE 7(9):e46195

Greenlee AR, Shiao M-S, Snyder E, Buaas FW, Gu T, Stearns TM, Sharma M, Murchison EP, Puente GC and Braun RE (2012) Deregulated sex chromosome gene expression with male germ cell-specific loss of Dicer1. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46359

Nilsson Janke MA, Janke A, Murchison EP, Ning Z and Hallström BM (2012) Expansion of CORE-SINEs in the genome of the Tasmanian devil. BMC Genomics. May 6;13(1):172

Deakin JE, Bender HS, Pearse AM, Rens W, O’Brien PC, Ferguson-Smith MA, Cheng Y, Morris K, Taylor R, Stuart A, Belov K, Amemiya CT, Murchison EP, Papenfuss AT and Graves JA (2012) Genomic restructuring in the Tasmanian devil facial tumour: chromosome painting and gene mapping provide clues to evolution of a clonally transmissible tumour. PLoS Genetics Feb;8(2):e1002483. Epub 2012 Feb 16.


Lee S, Paulson KG, Murchison EP, Afanasiev OK, Alkan C, Leonard JH, Byrd DR, Hannon GJ, Nghiem P (2011) Identification and validation of a novel mature microRNA encoded by the Merkel cell polyomavirus in human Merkel cell carcinomas. J. Clin. Virol. doi:10.1016/j.jcv.2011.08.012

Murchison EP and Adams DJ (2011) Sequencing Skippy: The genome of an Australian kangaroo Macropus eugenii. Genome Biology. 12:123

Spierings DC, McGoldrick D, Hamilton-Easton AM, Neale G, Murchison EP, Hannon GJ, Green DR, Withoff S. (2011) Ordered progression of stage-specific miRNA profiles in the mouse B2 B-cell lineage. Blood 177(20):5340-9

Tovar C, Obendorf D, Murchison EP, Papenfuss AT, Kreiss A and Woods GM (2011) A tumor-specific diagnostic marker for transmissible facial tumors of Tasmanian devils: immunohistochemistry studies. Veterinary Pathology Online. 48(6),1195-1203


Murchison EP, Tovar C, Hsu A, Bender HS, Kheradpour P, Rebbeck C, Obendorf D, Conlan C, Bahlo M, Blizzard C, Pyecroft S, Kreiss A, Kellis M, Stark A, Harkins TT, Graves JAM, Woods GM, Hannon GJ and Papenfuss AT (2010) The Tasmanian devil transcriptome reveals Schwann cell origins of a clonally transmissible cancer. Science. Jan 1 327(5961):84-7


Murchison EP (2009) Clonally transmissible cancers in dogs and Tasmanian devils. Oncogene 27: S19 – S30.