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Genetic analysis helps protect koalas in Australia


By Juliano Oliveira

Scientists from The University of Western Australia have made a fundamental discovery to establish a new milestone on the koala’s protection.

Through a 3D genetic analysis of the animals, it will be possible for the first time to understand koalas co-evolution with native eucalyptus species, how to develop more potent vaccines and better ways of supporting their disrupted populations due to deadly bushfires.

Koalas are classified as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Because of their slow movements and eucalypt trees being highly flammable, koalas are particularly at-risk during bushfire season,” DNA Zoo Australia Director Associate Professor Parwinder Kaur, from UWA’s School of Agriculture and Environment, said.

“The situation is made worse by their natural instinct to seek refuge in higher branches, where the heat and flames from bushfires are most prevalent.”

Scientists sequenced the koala’s complete DNA architecture from a genome sample and analysed the genetic data to produce a chromosome-length genome assembly to understand the creature better.

Bradley’ Ranger Red’ Holland, from Ranger Red’s Zoo & Conservation Park, said despite their cute and cuddly appearance, koalas are wild animals and should not be disturbed in their habitats.

“The research will contribute towards projects on Kangaroo Island which involve expanding the genetic diversification of koalas and restoring their habitat following the 2019 bushfires,” Mr Holland said.

More information on the global genome sequencing program is available on the DNA Zoo website.

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