Gene Study Could Save Koalas From Life-Threatening Disease

Koala's are one of the most adorable creatures on the planet. The cuddly little guys are Australia's most famous tree-dwelling animals and a must-see for any visitor to the land "Down Under." While the grey trunk-huggers are certainly popular, they haven't been the luckiest of creatures. Koalas are often attacked by dogs, hit by cars and with habitat loss an ever-growing problem, it might not be long before they're added to the endangered list. Another lesser-known problem that threatens the species is a strain of a commonly known disease.

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Chlamydia is spreading fast among populations of the animal, often getting so bad that they're left infertile or blind. A new study undertaken by scientists has now found that decoding the genome could make it possible to develop an effective vaccine against the infection. According to researchers, the information they have managed to retrieve from koala DNA has been amazing, allowing them to figure out how they survive on eucalyptus alone - a plant that is poisonous to most other animals.

Their tolerance is supposedly down to genes that are active in the koala's livers, allowing them to safely break down the toxins in the leaves. They're also able to use their powerful sense of smell to locate the leaves with the highest water content - koalas will only eat eucalyptus with a 55% water content.

While the study has given scientists lots of information with regard to how the fluffy climbers work, the five-year gene project hopes to irradicate chlamydia in koalas so they can be free of the terrible disease for good. The symptoms most prevalent in the animals, as well as infertility and blindness, is a painful urinary tract infection called "dirty tail", which can often be fatal.

It's thought that there are fewer than 100, 000 koalas left in the wild, but the numbers have steeply declined since the 19th century. Between 1870 and 1920 demand for their fur was so high that they were poached in vast quantities. Add on deforestation and habitat destruction in more recent times and these guys could be in pretty serious trouble if something isn't done to help them. This vaccine could see a significant halt to their troubles - although it's just one piece of the puzzle.


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