How will the koala genome help fight disease?

The genome sequence of the koala tells us more about their immunity and resilience to disease - one of the biggest threats to populations.

A sleepy-looking koala at Featherdale

A sleepy-looking koala at Featherdale
Photographer: Rebecca Johnson © Australian Museum

The long-term survival of the koala is significantly threatened by disease, so characterizing the immune system of the koala is important for management. Our long-read genome allowed characterisation of koala immune genes, many for the first time. These gene families are notoriously difficult to characterise because there are many copies with similar sequence, but they can be assembled, counted and identified by long read sequencing.

Once these genes were assembled we could compare the ones that were expressed in animals with symptoms of ocular chlamydia with those expressed in the healthy animals. Several of these animals were also involved in a chlamydial vaccine trial, with some showing ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ immune response to the vaccine. The genome has provided the first insights into the genetic basis for this response, and will provide essential information for future successful vaccine development.

Dr Rebecca Johnson , Director, Australian Museum Research Institute
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