Soft shell clams can get leukemia. I wouldn’t have guessed that clams had blood, much less could get leukemia. I thought they were basically giant siphons and sophisticated filters. Even more surprising is that they seem to catch it from each other. The cancer infecting clams all along the eastern US coast has a similar genetic pattern, in fact so similar it must have all started from the same source. One clam, one day, had a cell mutate and metastasize and now it has spread to coastal clams up and down the seaboard. Scientists are speculating that this one clam shed cells through the gallons of water it filtered through its body in the process of collecting food. Those cells stayed alive in the salty water, only to be ingested by the clams nearby, making them sick. The process of cancerous cells spreading this way is unusual and unexpected. The exact mechanism is yet to be discovered. Humans don’t get sick eating a leukemia ridden clam, but this disease has struck the clam population hard.
It is sort of crazy to imagine cancer cells that are catching by drinking water. It isn’t a virus that infects the clams, it doesn’t seem to be sexually transmitted, and nearby clams don’t co-mingle other than through effluent. Really it may just be the floating cancer cells shed by another clam. So now I wonder, can cancerous cells kill things besides clams? Will humans take this new found knowledge and go after invasive species of zebra muscles? It doesn’t seem too far of a stretch. Put a little bit of contaminated water in the pipes of a nuclear plant and pretty soon the invasive little clogging mussels die off instead of having to be scraped off.