Koala genome data released in push to protect vulnerable species

koala genome
Photo: aem08012535 123rf

Scientists at the University of Sydney’s Australasian Wildlife Genomics Group have loaded the entire genomes of 116 koalas to the public domain to accelerate vital genomic research to support the threatened species.

This comes just three years after the first full reference genome of the koala was published thanks to joint work by the University of Sydney and the Australian Museum.

Over the coming months 450 genomes will be made available on servers provided by Amazon Web Services, which is actively supporting the vital genomic research by covering the storage and downloads costs associated with hosting a large dataset in the cloud.

Scientists will be able to access the data through any web browser and use it to investigate key questions relating to the interplay between koala genetic diversity and disease, reproduction, the food they eat and how they will be able to adapt to a changing climate.

“This project is developing a genome survey map for koalas across their range,” program co-investigator Dr Carolyn Hogg from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney said. 

“We can use the information to discover and protect those populations that have important genetic variants, which are essential for koalas to be able to adapt to a changing environment.

“By collaborating with AWS Open Data Sets we are able to make the data publicly available as soon as we have sequenced the samples to help accelerate research for this iconic species.”

Announced in February 2021, the program received $674,000 in funding from the NSW Government and $348,450 from the Commonwealth Government.

“There is currently limited information on the population density, genetic diversity and health status of koalas in NSW,” NSW chief scientist & engineer, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, said. “This research is an important first step towards doubling the NSW koala population by 2050.”

The genomic work at the University of Sydney, led by Dr Carolyn Hogg and Professor Kathy Belov, is part of a broader program to map the genomes of over 50 threatened species as part of the Threatened Species Initiative.

The original version of this story can be read in News on the University of Sydney website.


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