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Rachael Tarlinton

Retroviral invasion of the koala genome

About Rachael Tarlinton

Rachael Tarlinton is a veterinarian and virologist who completed her PhD on koala retrovirus at the University of Queensland in 2006, and has worked on this virus, along with a lot of other viruses in people, wildlife, livestock and pets ever since. She is currently an Associate Professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science combining sequencing strange things with teaching undergraduate veterinary students. 


Retroviruses can integrate themselves into their host’s genome and become inherited, with about 8% of the human genome consisting of pieces of ancient retroviruses. Koala retrovirus (KoRV) is unusual for an inherited (endogenous) virus in that it is currently still undergoing the process of entering the genome and exists in both infectious and inherited forms. The virus has a major disease impact with up to 40% of captive animals dying from retroviral induced cancers. Animals in the north of Australia have a 100% prevalence of KoRV and all have the inherited form of the virus, those in the south of the country (a genetically distinct population) have a variable prevalence of the virus, a much lower rate of disease and some of them may have only the infectious form of the virus. Work we’ve done recently demonstrated that things are even more complicated than we thought with some animals having truncated forms of the virus that may be protective against the infectious forms. We’ve been unable to resolve the structure of these truncated forms with other methods so are using a combination of CRISPR and nanopore technologies to sequence these virus variants so that we can move on to working out if these can be used to protect these vulnerable wildlife populations from disease.  

Rachael Tarlinton

Rachael Tarlinton

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