Aussie study deciphers geographic patterns of virus threatening koalas

SYDNEY, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) — An Australian study has found that an AIDS-like virus is more likely to impact koalas inhabiting the states of New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland, compared to the southern populations in Victoria and South Australia.

The virus, known as koala retrovirus (KoRV), is strongly associated with diseases that can cause infertility and blindness in the species.

According to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, KoRV is only present in the genome of koalas from Queensland and NSW, while those in Victoria and South Australia appear to be free of the numerous subvariants.

“Our previous work showed a definite link between KoRV and chlamydia in koalas, and these latest findings indicate that northern koalas should be treated very differently to southern koalas,” Michaela Blyton, lead author from the University of Queensland, said on Wednesday.

“It might mean that in the short term, koala relocations in the north are limited so we’re not introducing new virus subtypes into healthy populations,” said Blyton.

As koala numbers have fallen rapidly over the past decade, Blyton believed that uncovering these crucial patterns can help experts learn how the disease is evolving and spreading, and how to contain the damage through anti-viral medication or koala breeding programs.

In Blyton’s eyes, a final solution may be some time away, but the latest findings were a big step towards nullifying the threat posed by diseases.

“Ultimately, we might see some kind of anti-viral treatment or at least improvements to koala breeding programs, but for now this is great news for a species facing threats on multiple fronts,” she said.

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