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.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF COUNTRY
FNPW supports projects across Australia. In the spirit of reconciliation the we acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Country and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture.
PROGRESS OF THIS PROJECT
This project was funded by FNPW in 2013.
The Australian Musuem is the lead organisation for this project.
Further information about our project partner can be found on their website:
Conclusions from Microsatellite and Mitochondrial data
Based on both the microsatellite and mitochondrial data, there are still relatively high levels of genetic diversity and gene flow around the Port Macquarie region. These results highlight the importance of maintaining dispersal corridors throughout the Port Macquarie region so that these high levels of diversity and connectivity can be maintained.
Community involvement and media during the period
This project was aided by the large donation of koala tissue from the Port Macquarie Koala hospital, which treats between 200-250 koalas per year. This project is also part of the large Koala Genome Consortium which has had media coverage during the period the project. Further these data were presented in over 10 scientific and public talks (around Australia and internationally) where the NSW Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife was acknowledged for the funding of this work.
Future project opportunities
As part of the Koala Genome Consortium, these samples which are now bio-banked in the Australian Museum tissue Collection will be used for population genomic studies.