A team of Australian and international scientists, led by Professor Rebecca Johnson, Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute and Professor Katherine Belov, University of Sydney, have made a significant break-through successfully sequencing the full koala genome. Considered to be the most complete marsupial genome sequenced to date, it is in terms of quality, on par with the human genome.
This project was funded through generous donations from FNPW supporters across Australia and beyond.
The highly accurate genomic data will provide scientists with new information that will inform conservation efforts, aid in the treatment of diseases, and help to ensure the koala’s long-term survival.
“The Koala Genome Consortium has been an ambitious journey affording us great insights into the genetic building blocks that make up a koala – one of Australia’s, as well as the world’s, most charismatic and iconic mammals,” Professor Johnson said.
“This milestone has come from our vision to use genomics to conserve this species. The genetic blueprint has not only unearthed a wealth of data regarding the koalas unusual and highly specialised diet of eucalyptus leaves, but also provides important insights into their immune system, population diversity and the evolution of koalas,’ she said.
One of the most threatening processes to koala survival is loss of habitat through land clearing and urbanisation which results in a reduction of habitat connectivity, reduced genetic diversity and puts koalas at high risk of inbreeding. The results of inbreeding can be highly detrimental to survival of those koala populations as it leads to reduced genetic diversity.
“For the first time, using over 1000 genome linked markers, we are able to show that NSW and QLD populations show significant levels of genetic diversity and long-term connectivity across regions.” Professor Johnson said.
“Ensuring this genetic diversity is conserved in concert with other conservation measures to protect habitat, reduce vehicle strikes, dog attacks and disease, are the keys to the long-term survival of the koala.”
FNPW is a proud funding partner of the Koala Genome Consortium.
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