It involves an insight into how the body uses DNA to tame retroviruses.
A team of Australian and US researchers has discovered a new type of immunity, mounted by the genome, that koalas are using to fight off an AIDS-like illness endemic in parts of Australia.
KoRV-A is a virus linked to Koala Immune Deficiency Syndrome (KIDS), which leaves our furry friends vulnerable to the blood cancer leukaemia and infections such as Chlamydia, which causes blindness, pneumonia and infertility.
But KoRV-A isn’t just any type of virus. It’s a retrovirus, which means when it invades the body it hacks into the cell’s genetic machinery to make DNA in its own likeness, altering the cell’s genome in the process.
That is an impressive bit of chicanery. But KoRV-A has plenty more where that came from.
Not only does it infect the koala’s workaday somatic cells – the ones that aren’t for reproduction – it also gets into the cells that are for reproduction, the so-called “germline” cells of the testes and ovaries.
Which sets KoRV-A up for something rather special, and worrying.
Read the full story in Cosmos magazine here