DNA Zoo scientists map quokka genome

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have been able to map the world’s first chromosome-length genome for the smallest member of the kangaroo family – the quokka – just in time for the marsupial’s second birthday.

The genome mapping was done through the DNA Zoo project, a global initiative that analyses DNA from different species to help researchers, leaders and policy-makers better understand species through their DNA as well as threats to their survival.

Last year the Rottnest Island Authority celebrated the inaugural Quokka Birthday and is planning another month of festivities this year throughout September.

Dr Parwinder Kaur, from UWA’s School of Agriculture and Environment, who is the Australian project lead for DNA Zoo, said quokkas were classified as a vulnerable species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with between 7,500 and 15,000 mature adults left in the wild.

“The data we’ve collected will help pave the way for conservation and evolution studies, identify measures to aid protection and understand the impact of changing climates and habitats for quokkas.”

Dr Parwinder Kaur

“The majority of quokkas are found on Rottnest Island with a protected population also found on Bald Island off the coast of Albany and a few scattered colonies on mainland Australia,” Dr Kaur said.

“The biggest threat to quokkas is deforestation, followed by climate change, bushfires and human contact.”

Dr Kaur said the chromosome-scale assembly for the quokka would help researchers better understand the genetic mechanisms underlying genome structure evolution and facilitate evolutionary studies, understanding extinction risks.

“The data we’ve collected will help pave the way for conservation and evolution studies, identify measures to aid protection and understand the impact of changing climates and habitats for quokkas,” Dr Kaur said.

“This will help monitor the population and inform the species management plans.”

The collaboration project included samples provided by Rottnest Island Authority and Murdoch University. The work was supported by resources provided by DNA Zoo Australia, UWA’s Faculty of Science and DNA Zoo, Aiden lab, Baylor College of Medicine.

The computational backbone was provided by the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre with funding from the Australian Government and the Government of Western Australia. Additional computational resources and support was received by Microsoft AI for Earth grant. Read more about the DNA Zoo website here.

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