Bin chickens; platypus threat; bilby poo; isolated koalas; sex changing fish

Conferences, International Congress of Genetics, Media releases

Thursday at the Genetics Congress

More on all these stories below.

Are bin chickens spreading Japanese encephalitis?

Australia experienced the largest recorded Japanese encephalitis virus outbreak in 2021 and 2022 with 45 human cases and 7 deaths. Over 80 piggeries were also affected.

Wild water birds are natural reservoirs for the virus.  Native Australian ibises, among other birds, were implicated in the recent outbreak. Because ibises are common in urban centres, they could play a role in spreading Japanese encephalitis and other important pathogens.

Anjana Karawita and his colleagues at CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong are using genomics to investigate the role of bin chickens in spreading Japanese encephalitis virus to other animals and humans.

Platypus viability threatened by dams, genetic analysis reveals

Luis Mijangos, Bill Sherwin and colleagues from UNSW have found that major dams limit platypus movement, so mitigation strategies should be considered in water conservation and management planning.

They found that genetic differentiation across dams was 4- to 20- fold higher than in undammed rivers, especially with older dams. The study indicates that the dams are limiting platypus movement, thus restricting gene flow and dispersal, which are essential evolutionary and ecological processes.

Bilby scats, DNA and Indigenous kids

Saving the bilby with genomics, conservation, & Indigenous knowledge

The Yallara (lesser bilby) went extinct in the 1960s, and the Ninu (greater bilby) has had an 80% reduction in its range since European arrival.

Indigenous rangers are using a bilby scat assay that allows them to take school kids out on country to teach them about Indigenous culture and science, whilst undertaking DNA surveys to understand their Ninu populations.

The survey used a reference bilby genome created by Carolyn Hogg and her colleagues at the University of Sydney. It provides critical information on the evolution of bilbies and marsupial chromosomes as well as a blueprint for developing new genetic markers to assess the genetic diversity, so managers can make informed decisions about translocations and establishing new fenced sanctuaries.

Victorian koalas are more isolated

A genomic survey of koalas was commissioned after the 2019/2020 Australian bushfire season that saw unprecedented loss of critical koala habitat across eastern Australia, particularly in New South Wales.

The analysis of 413 koala genomes by University of Sydney researchers has revealed higher levels of inbreeding and lower diversity in Victorian koalas compared to populations in New South Wales and Queensland.

The research is being used by conservationists and policy makers to guide decisions on habitat protection and maintenance of the koalas’ adaptive potential.

What got into your dog?

Many important domestic and wild animals are afflicted by blood-borne diseases transmitted by biting ticks and other bugs.

Lucas Huggins from the University of Melbourne has shown that small portable gene sequencers can detect a wide range of infections simultaneously, including rare or unknown pathogens.

Deployment of these new diagnostics leads to a better understanding of disease epidemiology and treatment.

The development grew out of earlier work protecting mine detection dogs in Cambodia.

What are the causes and consequences of sex reversal in fish

The most frequent causes of sex reversal in fish are exposure to abnormal temperatures and external chemicals. What are the implications for fish in a warming world, asks Francesc Piferrer from the Institute of Marine Sciences in Barcelona.

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