Team maps koala genome

Koala_climbing_treeIn a joint project that is also likely to benefit the conservation of other threatened and endangered species, a team of researchers from the Australian Museum, the Queensland University of Technology, Australia Zoo, the University of New South Wales’ Ramaciotti Centre, and the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, recently announced it had achieved the ‘holy grail’ of understanding the response of koalas to the infectious diseases currently threatening their survival.

The initial draft of the koala genome sequence has identified genes implicated in the animals’ diet as well as their immune systems, including the koala interferon gamma, or IFN-g gene, a chemical messenger that plays a key role in the marsupial’s defence against cancer, viruses and intracellular bacteria.

Peter Timms from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, said the IFN-g gene was the key to finding a cure for chlamydia and koala retrovirus, and its discovery would make it possible to fully test the effectiveness of vaccines on wild populations of koalas.

“We know koalas are infected with various strains of chlamydia, but we don’t know why some animals go on to get severe clinical disease and some don’t. We also know that genes such as IFN-g are very important for controlling chlamydial infections in humans and other animals. Identifying these in the koalas will be a major step forward in understanding and controlling diseases in this species,” Timms said. Continue reading Team maps koala genome