Research provides insights into koala chlamydia origin

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Research provides insights into koala chlamydia origin


Dr Adam Polkinghorne and Professor Peter Timms with a koala and handler from Australia Zoo

25 November 2014

The latest findings on a possible genetic link between chlamydial infections in koalas and in livestock will be presented at the two-day 2014 Australian Chlamydia Conference at USC starting Wednesday 26 November.

USC’s Dr Adam Polkinghorne – a member of a research team that recently announced the first successful trial of a chlamydia vaccine for koalas in the wild – will discuss his research into different strains of chlamydia and the potential for a crossover between koalas and livestock.

“We’ve developed a new technique that enables us to look at the whole bacterial genome of a chlamydia strain infecting an animal directly from a swab,” he said.

“This is a key breakthrough that we are going to be able to use to better study the variety of chlamydia infections that can be found in Australian animals.”

Dr Polkinghorne said chlamydial infection in sheep and cattle could have expensive consequences for producers and it was hoped the success of the koala vaccine could be replicated for livestock.

“Chlamydia can cause a host of issues and diseases in livestock, including abortions, arthritis and a failure to thrive in sheep and a fatal central nervous system infection in cattle,” he said.

“The preliminary molecular data suggests that the origin of at least some chlamydial strains infecting koalas came from sheep and cattle. However, much more work needs to be done to confirm this link.

“Either way, the work done in each species will benefit the other, particularly as we continue our work to evaluate and deploy an animal chlamydia vaccine.”

Dr Polkinghorne also will chair a session on chlamydial infections in a wide variety of animals, presented by nine leading researchers from around Australia and the world, on Thursday 27 November.

USC’s Peter Timms, the co-leader of the koala vaccine project, will present his findings on how some strains of chlamydia in humans and animals, including a koala strain, have evolved to be highly adapted to very different hosts by sensing and responding to the human immune system’s attack.

— Jane Cameron

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