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Living gene bank to help save wild koalas

A $1.8 million partnership between The University of Queensland, the Queensland University of Technology and Dreamworld will see the Gold Coast theme park’s zoological department used as living koala genome bank to save the threatened species.

The project, the first of its kind for koalas, aims to enhance the genetic diversity of local koala populations by producing disease-free koalas for release into the wild.

UQ Associate Professor Stephen Johnston said wild koala populations in Queensland were increasingly under threat of local extinction due to habitat loss and disease.

He said the project combined proven koala breeding technologies developed by UQ and Dreamworld with UQ analyses of wild and captive Queensland koala population genetics, and QUT chlamydia- vaccination to deliver a “living koala genome bank”.

“One of the important ideas of our project is that zoos be used as reservoirs to store the genetic material of threatened populations so they can be used in future breeding programs,” Associate Professor Johnston said.

QUT Professor of Immunology and Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation Associate Director Ken Beagley said vaccines could protect captive-bred animals against chlamydial infections that reduced fertility in female and male koalas.

“Using chlamydial vaccines developed at QUT we can insure that captive-bred animals are protected against this insidious bacterial infection that severely reduces fertility in both female and male koalas.”

Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation General Manager Al Mucci said a research facility that included a dedicated koala breeding centre was part of a Dreamworld’s wildlife and Corroboree area.

“This project is about the stewardship of fragmented and dysfunctional ecosystems of wild koalas and using our captive husbandry skills to manage this and ensure more wildlife does not go extinct on our watch.”

Save the Koala Day is on 25 September 2016.

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