An invasive species of crayfish (also known as Marmorkrebs or Procambarus virginalis) is spreading rapidly throughout Europe, and threatening endemic wild species as a result, due to its ability to clone itself. Genetically identical crayfish are now thriving in the wild from subtropical Madagascar to Sweden, Japan and Germany. It has been found in cities too, including Hanover and Heidelberg. The new species was discovered in a German aquarium in 1995, and is likely to have occurred as a result of a single mutation in a slough crayfish. This mutation is also responsible for the crayfish’s ability to clone itself.
Could the crayfish hold clues for cancer?
Over the past five years, Dr Lyko and his team at the German Cancer Research Institute have managed to successfully sequence the genome of the marbled crayfish, proving that its all-female offspring are genetically identical. They are now looking to continue their research on the species in the hope of gaining a better understanding of how cancer tumours multiply and adapt to their environment. Their primary focus will be epigenetic mechanisms, which is a means of switching specific genes on and off, and seen as a key area of interest in the fight against cancer.
The impact of this rapidly multiplying, invasive species on ecosystems is a concern. The crayfish has been called 'voracious'.