Let’s Talk About Sex. Koala Sex.

from hiltonmomvoyage.com

from hiltonmomvoyage.com

Or rather, sexually transmitted diseases. Koalas all over the country are dying thanks to chlamydia, a common STD. Chlamydia causes blindness, infertility and death in koalas and is endangering populations all along the east coast. More money and support is needed to find a way to stop the spread of chlamydia – and here’s why.

What are we doing now?

Groups like WIRES and the Australian Koala Foundation have been trying to help many koala populations by helping to restore habitats, raising awareness of koala road-kill and encouraging people to report sick and injured wildlife. But at the moment, the only thing they can do to help koalas with chlamydia is keep them in captivity for a few months whilst they complete a course of antibiotics, or, in advanced cases, put them down. The antibiotics are expensive, and they don’t make the koala immune to being reinfected in future, meaning they’re pretty well a waste of money at this point in time.

Unfortunately, the government is putting a lot of money and resources into these programs, when chlamydia is having far more of an effect on populations than anything else. We need the money to go toward finding more efficient ways of stopping chlamydia, not just to antibiotics – there’s really no point in stopping road-kills or habitat loss if all the animals are going to die anyway.

Why isn’t there a vaccine?

Well, it was previously thought that koalas have a weak immune response to chlamydia, meaning their immune system wouldn’t respond to a normal vaccine. This is because scientists were using information on other species to measure the immune response of koalas – which are genetically very different to most well known species.

Prof. Peter Timms and a fuzzy friend. (Credit: ABC)

But a team of researchers, headed by Professor Peter Timms at the Queensland University of Technology has been looking into the genes of the koala and mapping out their genome, looking for a way to vaccinate against the disease.

Any luck?

Yes! The team has sequenced genes in the koala’s immune system and measured their presence in infected and uninfected koalas. Using data from these tests, the scientists have shown that the immune system of the koala is different to other species – not weak – and this explains why people couldn’t detect an immune response before – all hope is not lost!

The same group of scientists is testing possible vaccines and says results are promising. However, all this progress may be for nothing if we can’t start vaccinating wild populations soon.

What should we do?

To speed things up, we need money and support from the government and the public. You can help by:

  • writing to your local or state government or to the federal environment minister, Tony Burke
  • donating to QUT’s research project (put “Koala Genome Mapping Project” into the ‘other’ field)
  • liking the team’s Facebook page
  • emailing some encouragement to Professor Peter Timms, head of the research team
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