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The Koala Genome Consortium – Nature Genetics publication


The koala is an iconic Australian species that attracts visitors from around the world. However, wild populations are showing dramatic decline in numbers mainly due to the pressures of diseases and loss of habitat. Koalas now need significant conservation intervention measures with Australian states establishing strategies such as the NSW Koala Strategy. Underlying these conservation measures, systematic analyses of population genetic diversity and genetic monitoring are required to ensure successful conservation efforts and the long-term survival of the species.

The Koala Genome is a national collaborative initiative started in 2013. This project aims to study the genetic basis of the koala’s unique biological features and was the first Australian-led big genome project. The team now comprises a collaborative group of 54 scientists from 29 research organisations across 7 countries.

This consortium of scientists led by Prof Rebecca Johnson, Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute, and Prof Katherine Belov, PVC Global Engagement at Sydney University, has just published the completed Koala Genome (Phascolarctos cinereus) in Nature Genetics.

The new study reports the genetic blueprint of the species based on the sequencing of 3 individuals and the discovery of genes that contribute to the unique biology of Koalas. These provide insights into their diet and lifestyle choices (detoxification of eucalyptus leaves and dietary choices). In addition, the research informs on the developmental stages of koala and their complex immune system with particular emphasis on their response to the widespread Chlamydia and KoRV (Koala retrovirus) infections that are decimating populations in NSW and Queensland.

Further information on the genome publication can be found in the Australian Museum press release and associated FAQ.

Adaptation and conservation insights from the koala genome. Johnson et al. Nature Genetics, volume 50, issue 7, July 2018 View publication

For more information on the Koala Genome Consortium visit: Bioplatforms Koala genome page


Rebecca Johnson |
Andrew Gilbert |

French Island Koala, picture by Greta Frankham, copyright Australian Museum

The complete Koala genome has been published in Nature Genetics and can be viewed here

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