Transcriptome Sequence May Help Explain Koala’s Vulnerability to Chlamydia and Retrovirus

The "holy grail" for understanding how and why koalas respond to different infectious diseases has been uncovered in an Australian-led, world-first koala transcriptome sequencing project. The joint undertaking between the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and The Australian Museum has unearthed a wealth of data, including the koala interferon gamma (IFN-) gene - a chemical messenger that plays a key role in the iconic marsupial's defense against cancer, viruses, and intracellular bacteria. Professor Peter Timms, from QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI), said the IFN- gene was the key to finding a cure for diseases such as Chlamydia and koala retrovirus (KoRV), currently threatening the vulnerable species. "We know koalas are infected with various strains of Chlamydia, but we do not know why some animals go on to get severe clinical disease and some do not," Professor Timms said. "We also know that genes such as IFN- are very important for controlling chlamydial infections in humans and other animals. Identifying these in the koala will be a major step forward in understanding and controlling diseases in this species." The research team, made up of Professor Timms, Dr Adam Polkinghorne, Dr Ana Pavasovicand Dr Peter Prentis from QUT; The Australian Museum; veterinarians from the Australia Zoo and the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital; and bioinformaticians from Ramaciotti Centre and the University of New South Wales (UNSW), has sequenced the complete transcriptome from several koala tissues. Dr. Polkinghorne from QUT's School of Biomedical Sciences said data sets from immune-related tissues of Birke, a koala that was euthanized following a dog attack, have revealed a wealth of information about the species' immune system including the sequences of at least 390 immune-related genes.
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