Unlocking genetic blueprints of two WA icons

A world-first genome mapping of Western Australia’s quokkas by scientists from The University of Western Australia has been completed.

Researchers have mapped a chromosome-length genome which will help scientists learn more about the species and how to protect quokkas for future generations.

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

Quokkas are classified as a vulnerable species, with between 7,500 and 15,000 mature adults estimated in the wild, mostly on Rottnest Island. There is also a protected population off the coast of Albany and scattered colonies on the mainland between Perth and Albany.

The genome mapping was supported 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 a Microsoft AI for Earth grant.

Meanwhile, Western Australian kangaroo paws are under the microscope as part of a quest to understand more about our State’s floral emblem.

Dr David Field from Edith Cowan University’s School of Science is leading an international research team assembling the first kangaroo paw genome.

Granite Kunzea (Kunzea pulchella) putting on a gorgeous display in Kings Park for the Spring Festival.

He said the project would open opportunities to breed plants with new colour varieties and disease resistance and build our understanding of the evolutionary history of kangaroo paws.

“Understanding the genetic basis of traits helps us decipher the blueprint underlying variation we see in nature,” Dr Field said.

“Once we identify some of the genes responsible for traits including flower colour or disease resistance, we can use this information to breed new varieties of resilient plants.

“Assembling the genome and comparing the DNA sequence between varieties will unlock vast amounts of information regarding the evolutionary history of the 11 known species of kangaroo paws, helping us understand how new species form and how biodiversity is generated,” he said.

The team includes researchers from Kings Park and Botanic Gardens.