Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 4th Nov 2012

Koalas in trouble

Nell Barrie

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show The genetics of germs

Kat:: And speaking of things evolving, there's some worrying news about koalas I saw this month. This is very sad news. What's going on here?

Nell:: So, this is something we're hearing more and more about which is a bit of a shame. So koalas obviously are not doing particularly well in the wild because of various things. Theyíve been hunted, theyíve had problems with disease, and this were some researchers going back to see whether old koala bones, examples that we have in museums for example, whether they had more genetic diversity than koalas today, and their idea was that, back when there were many more koalas around, thereíd be a lot more diversity in the genes that all the animals had. And what they found is that actually, koalas have had quite low genetic diversity for over a century, over 120 years. And it is a real shame because itís meaning that itís getting harder and harder for them to cope with what the environment is throwing at them, things like Chlamydia for example. It sounds really weird, but koalas are actually really badly affected by Chlamydia.

Kat:: Really? That sounds so sad.

Nell:: I've found out about this when I was in Australia because I just went to look at all the cool animals. We went to a place called Kangaroo Island which is a big island right at the bottom of Australia where they've got a great wildlife sanctuary set up. It was really nice to be there, but we were looking at a koala and this guy just saying, ďOh, itís really great because the koalas here donít have chlamydia.Ē And I was just standing there going, ďWhat?Ē

Kat:: Eww!

Nell:: Koalas with sexually transmitted diseases, itís really bizarre. But actually, loads of koalas on the mainland have chlamydia and it kills them. We think that perhaps the fact that theyíve got this low genetic diversity means that there's not much resistance in the population and they're not doing very well at sort of evolving to cope with this.

Kat:: Itís sad that you think the populations, when they get so small, there really isnít a lot of hope for them. I hope there is hope for koalas.

Nelly:: Yeah, exactly because I mean, I guess the question would be, where do you get extra genetic diversity from? Once itís gone, itís gone which is a real shame. So I mean hopefully, we can find ways to cope with this and I guess the main thing for researchers would be, this is a lesson for how you deal with animals that could get to that point. We have to stop that from happening.

Kat:: Well, letís keep our fingers crossed for the koala bears. Thanks very much, Nell.

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