Why is the koala genome important?

What makes the sequencing of the koala genome so important?

Koala Genome

Koala Genome
Photographer:  © Australian Museum

The koala is recognised worldwide as an iconic Australian species, and there is anxiety in Australia and internationally that this unique species is declining in the wild.

The koala is of interest to scientists, policy makers and the public because of their biological uniqueness, the high level of attention they receive for conservation, and their attraction to the visitor economy (koala-related tourism estimated at over AUD$1.5 billion per annum).

Koalas are evolutionarily distinct. They are the only living representative of the marsupial family Phascolarctidae, the last of up to 20 species recognised in the fossil record.

Koalas are biologically unique. They can eat highly toxic eucalyptus leaves that would kill most other mammals, but they are picky eaters, so very prone to habitat loss. With increasing threats of predation and habitat loss through urbanisation, koalas are particularly vulnerable to deleterious effects of fragmented habitat and population bottlenecks, and are further threatened by disease, low genetic diversity and climate change. Worryingly, some koala populations are expected to decline across Australia by up to 50% over the next three generations (approx. 20 years), so maintaining healthy populations will require significant conservation intervention measures.

Dr Rebecca Johnson , Director, Australian Museum Research Institute
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