Science hope for Australia’s threatened koalas

The International Union for Conservation of Nature qualifies the koala’s protection status as ‘vulnerable.’ (AFP)
Updated 03 July 2018
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Science hope for Australia’s threatened koalas

  • Inbreeding was higher among koalas from Victoria and South Australia states than among their cousins from Queensland and New South Wales
  • The koala genome is bigger than the human genome, with about 20,000 genes

PARIS: Australia’s koalas, their very existence imperiled by disease, bushfires, car strikes, and dog attacks, face a more hopeful future thanks to scientists cracking its genetic code, a study said Tuesday.
A mammoth effort by more than 50 researchers in seven countries uncovered 26,558 koala genes, yielding vital DNA clues for vaccines against diseases such as sexually transmitted chlamydia, which blinds the cuddly critters and leaves them infertile.
“The genome has allowed us to understand the koala immune genes in detail for the first time,” said Rebecca Johnson of the Australian Museum Research Institute, a co-author of the study published in Nature Genetics.
“These genes (are) directly contributing to vaccines for koalas,” she said.
The DNA code should also boost koala breeding programs.
It revealed that inbreeding was higher among koalas from Victoria and South Australia states than among their cousins from Queensland and New South Wales.
The discovery “allows us to make recommendations for how to preserve the populations with high genetic diversity and how animals might be translocated to improve the diversity of inbred populations,” Johnson said.
From between 15 and 20 species some 30 to 40 million years ago, a single species of koala survives in Australia today — some 330,000 individuals in all, most living in protected areas.
As few as 43,000 may be left in the wild, down from an estimated 10 million koalas before Europeans began settling Down Under in around 1788.
Koala numbers were decimated partly by a thriving pelt trade from the 1870s to the late 1920s.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature qualifies the koala’s protection status as “vulnerable.”
Koalas are marsupials — mammals that raise their young in a tummy pouch. Born without an immune system, the koala joeys are heavily dependent on their mothers’ milk.
A key discovery resulting from the genome sequencing was the discovery of koala-specific milk proteins that may also have “powerful antibiotic properties... (that are) really effective against bacteria and fungi.”
“So we think one day we could develop antibiotics for humans and other animals straight out of the koala’s pouch,” the study’s co-author Katherine Belov of the University of Sydney said.
“And the implications for that are huge, because of course antibiotics resistance is on the rise and we are seeing more and more novel bacteria emerge that are resistant to all drugs on the market.”
Koalas’ unusual diet consists mainly of eucalyptus leaves, which would be toxic for most animals and are low in calories, meaning the fluffy “bears” have to eat a lot and rest often.
The new study identified genes responsible for liver detoxification that likely permitted koalas to become such dietary specialists, thus avoiding competition for food with other animals.
Unfortunately, their pickiness now adds to the survival pressure, with eucalyptus trees cleared for farmland or for urban construction.
Global warming, experts say, will further raise the risk of devastating forest fires and tree death.
The koala genome is bigger than the human genome, with about 20,000 genes.
It is the most complete genome yet sequenced for any marsupial, of which there are about 300 species, the researchers said.


2018 Holiday Gift Guide: What to get for the ones you love this festive season

2018 Holiday Gift Guide
Updated 12 December 2018
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2018 Holiday Gift Guide: What to get for the ones you love this festive season

DUBAI: Here are some gift ideas for this holiday season.

Long-distance love
Lovebox Spinning Heart Messenger ($100)
A 21st-century version of the classic love letter — perfect to let distant loved ones know you’re thinking of them. When you send a new message through the app, the heart on the recipient’s box revolves and your message is displayed on the screen inside.

Point-and-click. And print
HP Sprocket 2-in-1 Camera Printer ($160)
This smartphone-sized instant camera also lets you print your Instagram pics while you’re on the move. So now you can let disinterested strangers in the real world, too, know just how perfect the presentation of your smashed avocado toast was this morning.

For the watch lover
A Lange & Söhne Triple Split ($160,000)
This 100-piece limited-edition white-gold watch is one of the most complex ever created, with 567 components. The maker claims its “the first mechanical split-seconds chronograph in the world that allows multi-hour comparative time measurements,” and we’re not going to argue.

For the absent-minded
Tile Mate ($25)
Put Tile Mate on your key ring and save yourself from minor meltdowns. Can’t find your keys? Simply fire up the app and listen for the signature tune, or check the on-screen map. What if you lose your phone? Press the button and your phone will ring — even if it’s on silent. Lost your keys and your phone? Oh…

Take your tablet old-school
iPad TV stand ($30)
This cardboard faux-TV set from the Seventies is a great little placeholder for your iPad (or other tablet). For a really authentic nostalgia trip, set all your videos to 144p.

Family fun
Don’t Step In It board game ($20)
Put on a blindfold, spin the spinner, and take that many steps across the mat. And hope you don’t tread in the strategically placed poop. (The poop should be fake — we can’t stress that enough.) The weirdest thing about this weird game is that no one thought of it sooner. Seeing someone else tread in poop is always funny.

For the coffee freak
Espro Ultralight Press ($40)
This 16-oz French press (and vacuum-insulated “hydration bottle”) is perfect for the discriminating traveler for whom a sachet of Nescafe in their hotel room just won’t do.


For the coffee geek
R2-D2 Coffee Press ($25)
Everyone’s favorite service droid (yes, BB-8, *everyone’s*) now performing everyone’s favorite service — preparing coffee.

For the audiophile
Shinola Runwell Turntable ($2,500)
The ongoing vinyl revival means any music-loving hipster worthy of their goatee is once again buying LPs. This sleek belt-driven turntable has a built-in phono preamp.

The year’s best-selling book
‘Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House’ ($25)
Michael Wolff’s controversial exposé of what (he says) happened behind the scenes in the first nine month’s of Donald Trump’s presidency tops the bestseller list for 2018. Wolff’s ‘access-all-areas’ pass to the West Wing makes for fascinating reading, regardless of your political affiliations.

The year’s best-selling perfume
Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel ($100)
Apparently, it’s 2018’s most-popular smell-in-a-bottle, so you can’t really go wrong with this citrus-y “sexy, fresh Oriental fragrance.”

For the movie buff
100 Movies Scratch Off poster ($15)
You know those films people keep telling you that you must see? Here’s 100 of them on a single poster that you can scratch as you go to reveal the ones you’ve actually watched. Or the ones you feel like you have to pretend you’ve watched.

The shopaholic’s über-hamper
The Covent Garden Shopping Edit ($13,180)
This is only good if you’re planning a visit to London sometime soon, but for many GCC-dwellers, that’s a regular trip. This hamper features must-have gifts from Covent Garden’s most exclusive brands, including Danse Lenté, Penhaligon’s, Mulberry, The Shop at Bluebird, and more. It also includes a $6,400 voucher to spend on a watch at Bucherer.

For the escapist
Oculus Go Standalone VR Headset ($210)
Running away to another world is probably going to be high on everyone’s wish list for 2019. A trip to Mars is potentially lethal (not to mention Elon Musk could be your travel companion), so we recommend this all-in-one virtual-reality set for now.

Get some sleep
LectroFan White Noise Machine ($50)
Help mask those things that go bump (or screech, or whatever that adorable sound of young fellas revving their engines in the street outside is called) in the night with this ambient noise generator, complete with timer and volume control.

For the person who has everything
A castle in Italy ($18.25 million)
Nothing says ‘I love you’ like an 11th-century Florentine castle. Or any castle, really. This one comes with two swimming pools, two farmhouses, an olive grove, vineyard, and 37 hectares of woodland. And serious bragging rights.