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Huh? Researchers work to develop chlamydia vaccine for promiscuous koala bears

Chlamydia vaccine

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(NaturalNews) The Australian Koala Foundation reports that the koala bear population is "in serious decline" and has dropped below 80,000 in the wild. Koalas are now considered "vulnerable" by the New South Wales and Queensland governments. The main reason why isn't because of poaching or loss of habitat. Instead, researchers report serious and persistent cases of chlamydia, which is spreading fast and making nearly half the female koala population infertile. One of the strains commonly found in koalas, C. psittaci, can cause blindness, infertility and death. Most commonly, though, the bacterium leads to conjunctivitis and urinary tract infections. Other strains can cause pink eye and pneumonia.

Is there more to the koala chlamydia outbreak than just promiscuous sexual activity?

When did the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia first appear in koala bears? Why does the disease now threaten most of the koala population in Australia? How have koala genes changed over time to make them more susceptible to chlamydia? What have they been exposed to that might have caused an epigenetic change within them, leading their immune systems to be more susceptible to the disease? Has the isolated koala population in Australia been exposed to human-induced experiments that have rendered them more susceptible to the disease?

These questions have never been more important, because the koala population is diseased and dwindling, with 30 to 50 percent of Australian koala bears now testing positive for a strain of chlamydia that's related to the bacteria observed in humans. Australian microbiologist Peter Timms confirms this, and scientists' alike point out that it's because koalas are promiscuous. When the male bears aren't sleeping, they are out mating with as many females as possible, but is there more to the story than just promiscuous koala bears?

Why is chlamydia so persistent in koala populations today? These answers remain unknown, but Timms thinks he has found the answer. His solution: a chlamydia vaccine for all the promiscuous and genetically at-risk koalas. This raises the question: Could this animal tested vaccine be the beginning stages of new vaccines to be ultimately marketed to humans to prevent chlamydia infections?

First successful field trial for koala chlamydia vaccine

Timms and his team have created "the world's first successful field trial of a vaccine against chlamydia in koalas." The vaccine was tested on 30 koalas which were monitored in the wild for six months. The vaccine was used in koalas that have a specific gene that makes them more susceptible to the disease. That gene is the interferon gamma (IFN-g) gene, discovered by Timms and his colleagues. The vaccine helped the gene-specific koalas generate an immune response to the chlamydia bacteria strains.

Timms hinted at a future vaccine for humans when he said this: "We also know that genes such as IFN-g are very important for controlling chlamydial infections in humans and other animals. Identifying these in the koala will be a major step forward in understanding and controlling diseases in this species."

In their research, they extracted the sequences of some 390 other immune-related genes from a fragment of tissue samples taken from one koala. With these samples, they were able to conduct a molecular test measuring the expression of IFN-g in the blood stream of koala bears. These tests can help scientists pre-screen the koalas that are able to handle the disease genetically and separate them from those bears who can't.

Two very important questions to ask are: In recent times, what may have caused changes in koala genes, making them more susceptible to bacterial infections? How could this vaccine set the blueprint for an industry that preys on immune-suppressed populations who believe that medical intervention is the only way to handle bacterial infections that can be prevented through other preventive measures?




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