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The three muskaroos

Today, DNA Zoo Australia is celebrating!!! We are very happy to announce the receipt of funding from Lotterywest to build a comprehensive genomic resource especially for Western Australia, the WA Genome Atlas.

Australia is one of 17 “megadiverse” countries that comprise a large proportion of the Earth’s biological diversity and house a multitude of unique and endemic species. Southwest Australia specifically is the world’s first recognised global biodiversity hotspot. The WA Genome Atlas initiative supported by Lotterywest will establish a transdisciplinary hub of excellence to genetically characterise, record and support our unique biodiversity, and fill a gap in genetic knowledge required for ambitious ecosystem and species conservation.

To mark the occasion, the DNA Zoo is releasing the world’s first chromosome-length genome assemblies for three marsupials, the Western brush wallaby (Notamacropus irma) endemic to Western Australia, and it's cousins the swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) and Matschie's tree-kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei)!

Photo collage featuring the Western brush wallaby photo by Jukka Jantunen, CC BY-NC 4.0; Swamp wallaby photo by James Bailey, CC BY-NC 4.0 and Matschie's tree-kangaroo photo by Wally Gobetz, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 []

The western brush-wallaby (Notamacropus irma) used to be very common in Western Australia but hunting for its pelt by early settlers and habitat destruction has resulted in reduced numbers. Sadly, these wallabies are most commonly seen around the outskirts of Perth – lying on the side of the road after being struck by a car. Several orphaned joeys have been taken to Perth Zoo after their mothers were killed on roads. (Please take extra care when driving near bushland, especially at dusk and dawn!)

Visit the assembly page for Notamacropus irma here and browse the contact matrix for the eight chromosomes below. Thanks to Natasha Tay, Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University, for assistance with the sample!

The swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) is a small, stocky wallaby with dark brown fur, often with lighter rusty patches on the belly, chest and base of the ears. Its population is similarly decreasing due to habitat destruction and, to a lesser degree, killing by farmers. Fortunately, Wallabia bicolor is still common, and the issues it faces are not currently considered threats to its survival. Several physical and behavioral characteristics make the swamp wallaby different enough from other wallabies that it is currently placed apart in its own genus, but its phylogenetic placement is debated. We hope the chromosome-length genome assembly we present today will help to resolve this controversial taxonomy for the species.

Visit the assembly page for Wallabia bicolor here and browse the contact matrix for the five chromosomes below. Thanks to Ranger Red’s Zoo & Conservation Park for their help with the sample used for this assembly!

Finally, give it up for the Matschie's tree-kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei), a strikingly beautiful endangered tree kangaroo found only in Papua New Guinea. Habitat loss and over harvesting are the main threats to the species. We are happy to have an opportunity to add a chromosome-length genome assembly to support the research on Matschie's tree-kangaroo!

Check out the assembly page for Dendrolagus matschiei here, and browse the contact matrix for the seven chromosomes below. We are grateful to the T.C. Hsu Cryo-Zoo at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center that contributed the fibroblasts for this genome assembly.

This work was enabled by resources provided by DNA Zoo Australia, The University of Western Australia (UWA) and DNA Zoo, Aiden Lab at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) with additional computational resources and support from the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre. The WA Genome Atlas project leading the West Australian node of the global DNA Zoo initiative is proudly supported by Lotterywest.

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