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

This comes just three years after the first full reference genome of the koalawas published thanks to joint work by the University of Sydney and AustralianMuseum.

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

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

Program co-investigator Dr Carolyn Hogg from the School of Life andEnvironmental Sciences at the University of Sydney said: “This project isdeveloping a genome survey map for koalas across their range. We can use theinformation to discover and protect those populations that have importantgenetic variants, which are essential for koalas to be able to adapt to achanging environment.

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

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

Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the program was part ofan $18 million investment in koala initiatives by the Morrison Government.

“As the Threatened Species Committee reviews the protection status for koalasand as we work to map populations and restore habitat, the University ofSydney research team is sharing data so that others in the scientificcommunity can help provide new insights to help unlock information about thehealth and resilience of koala populations,” Minister Ley said.

NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayressaid this important milestone would accelerate research and take koalaconservation efforts to the next level.

“Stimulating and supporting cutting-edge research is a vital part of solvingenvironmental challenges today and into the future,” Mr Ayres said.

“The NSW Government is proud to support the protection of koalas through thiscollaboration between research and industry, which will enhance the state’sbioinformatics capability and give researchers open access to important data.”

NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, said: “There iscurrently limited information on the population density, genetic diversity andhealth status of koalas in NSW. This research is an important first steptowards doubling the NSW koala population by 2050.”

The koala is facing increased threats from land clearing, climate change,disease and limitations to the species’ genetic diversity to adapt.

The genomic work at the University of Sydney, led by Dr Carolyn Hogg andProfessor Kathy Belov, is part of a broader program to map the genomes of over50 threatened species as part of the Threatened Species Initiative.

Professor Belov said next year the program will focus on other species’genomes, including the bilby, numbat and the extinct in the wild ChristmasIsland skink.

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