Honours Research Opportunity

21 Mar 2023

Koalas are listed as endangered across their range including Queensland according to a recent protection level upgrade. The species faces extinction risk due to deforestation increasing areas of habitat loss, trauma by vehicle collisions and dog predation, and infectious agents including Koala Retrovirus (KoRV). Koalas suffer from a comparatively high incidence of cancer, and previous studies have associated KoRV with some of these cancers such as lymphoma and leukaemia. However, no study to date has determined if KoRV can induce primary bone neoplasms in koalas, which has been observed with retroviruses in other species (cats, hedgehogs, primates, poultry). Through our previous large-scale, high-throughput autopsy study in SEQLD koalas to investigate the causes driving their historical decline in QLD, we obtained preliminary data showing that koala bone neoplasms can cause death by affecting mobility and compressing adjacent tissues, despite their benign biological behaviour. Combining tools such as transmission electron microscopy, molecular and pathology methods, this project will work closely with major SEQ wildlife hospitals to characterise the KoRV subtypes present in koalas with primary bone neoplasia, determine the KoRV viral/proviral loads in blood of affected koalas, and detect KoRV virions in neoplastic tissues. Outputs generated by this project will improve our understanding and provide insights into the complexity of the KoRV disease spectrum and unveil underlying factors influencing cancer occurrence in koalas. We would like to invite an honours student to join us in this exciting research. Experience with molecular biology testing is preferred. The pathology and molecular work will be conducted in the Gatton campus utilising both achieved and prospectively collected koala tissue. Please contact Dr. Viviana Gonzalez-Astudillo (v.gonzalez@uq.edu.au) for more information.