The koala genome sequence is reported in a paper published online this week in Nature Genetics. These data form the most complete marsupial genome recorded to date, provide insights into the koala’s unique biology, and may aid in the treatment of disease and help inform conservation efforts.
Rebecca Johnson and colleagues assemble a high-quality koala genome using long-read sequencing technology and optical mapping. They find an expansion of the gene families relating to detoxifying enzymes, which enable koalas to live off of phenolic-rich eucalyptus leaves. The authors then catalog smell and taste receptor genes that help koalas select the most nutritious and moisture-rich leaves. They also comprehensively annotate immune gene clusters, which may enable research into chlamydia infection, common among koala populations.
Koalas are threatened by increasing habitat loss, fragmentation of their population and disease susceptibility. These findings allow the reconstruction of koala demographic histories and the assessment of current population diversity-making the genome a rich resource for shaping future conservation initiatives.