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Devil's Advocates

Melbourne Zoo and the Gene Technology Access Centre are proud to present their new conference, Devil’s Advocates, designed in line with the 2016 – 2021 VCE Biology Study Design.  

At Melbourne Zoo

Students will examine the story of the Tasmanian Devil, focusing on devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) and how our understanding of this devastating illness has evolved over time.

Students will learn first-hand how Zoos Victoria is currently working to save Tasmanian Devils through both in-situ and ex-situ breeding and research programs. They will see how the concepts they have learnt about in VCE Biology are being used in real life to save this endangered species.

Students will also be asked to consider the ethical dilemmas faced when trying to save an endangered species, and contemplate how understanding a new type of contagious disease in our increasingly globally connected world could have unforeseen importance in the future.


The DFTD within the Tasmanian Devil population could result in devil extinction. However, emerging research reveals that this disease is a strong selection pressure leading to changes in areas of the devil genome related to immune function and cancer risk. This research suggests that Tasmanian devils are evolving resistance to DFTD.

Students will analyse DNA samples that were collected from Tasmanian devil populations before and after the emergence of DFTD. They will use bioinformatics tools to search for Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) that have changed in frequency in the population as a response to the DFTD selection pressure. These regions, that show strong positive selection, contain genes. Students will conduct a nucleotide BLAST to identify what the genes might be.    

In the laboratory students will consider a potential biotechnical application for selecting captive devils for reintroduction into the wild. Using DNA manipulation techniques they will determine the alleles that a devil has for a gene thought to confer resistance to DFTD.

Travelling between the two venues is required. Options include walking (30 minutes), taking a tram down Royal Parade or using transport provided by your school. Sufficient time is provided for travel between the two venues.

Learning Outcomes

The activities in this program can be used as the basis for two School Assessed Coursework tasks:

Unit 4 AOS 1 SAC task:

Analyse evidence for evolutionary change - A report using primary or secondary data.

Unit 4 AOS2 SAC task:

Describe how tools and techniques can be used to manipulate DNA, explain how biological knowledge is applied to biotechnical applications, and analyse the interrelationship between scientific knowledge and its applications in society - A response to an issue.

Zoos Victoria Education aligns with best practice teaching and learning strategies for VCE Biology and has a strong focus on collaborative learning and developing inquiry skills.

Our educational experiences cater for students of all learning needs.