Sunday, February 26, 2012

Koala retrovirus

That tree-climbing bundle of cute , the koala, is suffering from loss of habitat, urbanization, global climate change, and…Chlamydia? Not the human kind, but a different species that is transmitted during birth, mating, and fights and causes blindness, respiratory infections, and infertility. The Queensland population is especially devastated, with a little less than half the population disappearing from 2001 to 2008—why?

The answer is—koala retrovirus! The HIV-like virus is widespread in the area, and immunocompromises the koalas, leaving them open to severe Chlamydia infections. Researchers are looking for a vaccine to halt the decline of our furry friends, which would involve wild koala captures followed by vaccination and release.

It’s a bit surprising to me that we can produce effective vaccines against animal retroviruses but haven’t yet made an effective one against HIV. It may have something to do with different receptors or low viral loads, but I hope that each successful animal vaccine might bring us closer to a human one.



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