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Genetics Unzipped podcast: Catching cancer – Transmissible tumours in dogs, devils, clams and cannibal hamsters

In the latest episode of Genetics Unzipped, presenter Dr Kat Arney reads an exclusive excerpt from her recent book, Rebel Cell: Cancer, evolution and the science of life, which is out in paperback in the UK on 6th August.

It’s a fascinating, fact-packed and surprisingly fun tour through what we currently know (and don’t know) about what cancer is, where it comes from, and where it’s going.

Rebel Cell was selected as one of The Times Best Books of 2020, saying “A lively study of the Big C, which makes the case that cancer is the price we pay for our marvellously complicated bodies”

It’s been described as “A book packed with big ideas about life. Every chapter has something in it which made me think wow!”, “A myth-busting masterclass in science writing”, “A bright, engaging read, fizzing with energy and metaphor,” “Not boring at all” and “A riot”.

Laurence Hurst, president of The Genetics Society said, “This lively, scholarly and accessible book should be essential reading for oncologists the world over and powerfully demonstrates that nothing in biology, cancer included, makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

In this excerpt, Kat explores the science and the stories behind one of the most curious – not to mention alarming – cancer phenotypes: transmission between individuals.

From the grotesque transmissible facial tumours that are threatening to drive Tasmanian Devils to extinction to a contagious dog cancer that is more than four thousand years old, via clam cancers, cannibal hamsters and the man who caught cancer from his own tapeworm, we explore why and how a handful of tumours have managed to make the leap to immortality.

Rebel Cell: Cancer, evolution and the science of life is available to pre-order as a paperback now, and is also available as a hardback, Kindle or audiobook from all good retailers. Find out more at

Listen to the Genetics Unzipped podcast

Listen to the whole episode and find show notes and a full transcript at

Genetics Unzipped is the podcast from the UK Genetics Society, presented by award-winning science communicator Dr Kat Arney and produced by First Create the Media.  Follow Genetics Unzipped on Twitter @geneticsunzip, and the Genetics Society at @GenSocUK

Find Genetics Unzipped on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.