Koala Genome Sequenced For The First Time, And It Could Be What Saves Them

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

Unfortunately, there is no way sequencing can address the single biggest threat koalas face, destruction and fragmentation of their habitat, particularly in northern parts of their range.

The project revealed the koala has around 26,000 genes, slightly more than humans, and not surprisingly those aspects dedicated to detoxifying eucalyptus oils are prominent, with heavy expression in the liver.

Like other marsupials, koalas are born exceptionally underdeveloped and vulnerable, lacking a functioning immune system to protect them. "We identified genes that allow the koala to finetune milk protein composition across the stages of lactation, to meet the changing needs of their young," author Professor Kathy Belov of the University of Sydney said in a statement.

The goal is to let them kiss in peace without getting chlamydia. Port Macquarie Hospital

Some of the proteins found in the milk have never been seen before in other mammals and may protect the joey against bacterial and fungal diseases. Replicating these could improve the survival prospects of orphaned joeys, but may also provide a starting point for those looking for new classes of antibiotics.

The study also revealed koalas went through a sharp population decline 30-40,000 years ago, around the time much of Australia's megafauna died out, although Johnson told IFLScience the causes are unclear.

The use of third generation sequencing techniques means the program is estimated at 95.1 percent complete, higher than any other marsupial, and almost matching the human genome, despite the vast work we have put into studying ourselves.

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