Current Programs

Diversity and function of MHCII immune genes in koalas
Diverse immune genes enable animals to combat diverse diseases. This program has resulted in the characterization of some important immune genes in the koala. Results indicate a loss of diversity in these genes as a result of past hunting and translocation programs, particularly in Victorian populations, and an association of some genotypes with altered immune responses and disease. Contact: Damien Higgins

Chlamydial disease in koalas
This program investigates several aspects of chlamydial disease in koalas: the role of chlamydial diversity and virulence genes; the efficacy of a range of antimicrobials used in treatment of the disease; and an assessment of risk factors for admission of koalas to hospitals due chlamydial disease and other causes, such as motor vehicle trauma and predation by dogs. In collaboration with groups at the University of Queensland, we are investigating the impact of chlamydial infection on the fertility of male koalas, and pathways of chlamydial transmission. Contact: Damien Higgins

Cryptococcosis in koalas
The fungus, Cryptococcus neoformans var gattii, lives in eucalypts and commonly infects koalas without causing disease. However, in some koalas, other species and humans, it sometimes invades to cause debilitating or fatal disease. The reasons for this are unknown but lie somewhere within a complex host- pathogen- environment relationship, which we are studying. Contact: [[||Mark Krockenberger

Does Koala retrovirus cause immune suppression?
Koala retrovirus (KoRV) is widely suggested to cause damaging immune suppression in koalas, making them vulnerable to diseases such as Chlamydiosis, but this has not yet been proven. A collaborative project with the University of Queensland, this project aims to determine what impact KoRV has on the immune system of koalas. Work to date has resulted in novel methods that revolutionise the way we can examine the immune system of koalas. Contact: Damien Higgins

Absorption and metabolism of therapeutic drugs in koalas
Koalas are well adapted to their toxic diet of eucalypts, but the digestive and metabolic adaptations that allow them to cope with their diet have dramatic effects on the choice and doses of treatments such as antibiotics and analgesics. Our discoveries in this area are leading us to better treatments and pain management for koalas, and are explaining how some of our native species thrive on their specialised diets. Contact: Merran Govendir

Eucalypt toxins and pollution : how much can koalas take ?
Due to land use and climate change, koalas live in a changing environment, limiting their food choice and increasing its content of natural toxins. How much capacity koalas have to cope with these and man-made toxins such as pesticides is unknown, but is an important aspect of managing koala habitat and populations into the future. We are examining the ability of koalas to adapt to increased levels of leaf toxins and the impact of these and pesticides on their health. Contact: Mark Krockenberger.