genome banks as connections between patches of koala habitat
As mentioned in a previous post, Dr Steve Johnston of University of Queensland has been developing the concept of a genome bank for koalas as a part of new strategy for koala conservation. This is a simple but elegant idea whereby genetics in the form of live animals or frozen sperm can be managed for future use for the purposes of reinvigorating fragmented or genetically weak populations. Using traditional captive koala breeding in zoos or assisted breeding techniques, like artificial insemination, it is possible to capture important genetics from threatened populations, so that these genes are not lost for the future.
Dr Johnston and his colleagues are also developing techniques that incorporate the use of frozen semen, which in some species has been stored for over 50 years in liquid nitrogen, and then used to successfully produce offspring. It is even possible to recover reproductive tissue from post-mortem animals that arrive dead in koala hospitals or have to be euthanased because of road accidents or dog attacks; although these animals have to be screened for disease before the tissue can be used, it is akin to bringing the animal back from the dead. While these technologies are not necessarily a panacea for all of the koala’s problems, they do give koala managers an increased range of tools that can be used for their conservation. The technique of artificial insemination has already produced 32 koala joeys.