SCIENTISTS from The University of Western Australia have unveiled a genetic analysis of the koala, which could help better understand how to protect the beloved iconic Australian species.
DNA Zoo Australia director Associate Professor Parwinder Kaur said the work would help scientists understand koalas co-evolution with native eucalyptus species, how to develop stronger vaccines to prevent common diseases and better ways of supporting their populations due to deadly bushfires.
Koalas were hard hit in south-east Queensland's Scenic Rim and NSW fires last year, with a poignant Beaudesert Times photograph of a singed koala seeking shelter on a fallen log receiving national prominence.
The koala is classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
"Because of their slow movements and eucalypt trees being highly flammable, koalas are particularly at-risk during bushfire season," Professor Kaur said.
"The situation is made worse by their natural instinct to seek refuge in higher branches, where the heat and flames from bushfires are most prevalent."
The scientists from UWA partnered with Ranger Red's Zoo Conservation Park to obtain a genome sample of the biologically-unique mammal that thrives on highly toxic eucalyptus leaves which would kill most other animals.
"From the sample provided, we were able to sequence the koala's complete DNA architecture and analyse the genetic data to produce a chromosome-length genome assembly to better understand the creature."