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Not many similarities jump out at you when you
compare a kangaroo and a human, but new
marsupial research by CQUniversity's Dr Lauren
Young may soon lead to greater understanding of the human
immune system and how we fight infectious disease.
Marsupials are mammals whose young are bor n
immaturely but crawl into their mother's pouch and
latch themselves onto one of her teats until they are
Now on the brink of a cutting-edge discovery, Young
has taken a circuitous route to arrive at her current
role as a CQUniversity senior lecturer in the Faculty of
Science, Engineering and Health. She began her career
about 20 years ago as a food industry chemist and then
became a Research and Development manager.
After a decade in that field, Young decided to change
careers. She returned to study and received a Bachelor
of Applied Science with Honours from the University of
Western Sydney in 1997. She completed her doctorate on
marsupial immunology in 2003.
For her research, Young relies on her contacts with
veterinarians who have injured or sick animals which
need to be euthanised. e animals she has experimented
on have included endangered Tammar wallabies, Long-
footed potoroos, echidnas, platypus and koalas. "It
makes it more challenging to do research when I don't
just have a colony of lab-rats to work on!" she says.
Young's major research breakthrough came just
a few years ago when she decided that to create an
immunological testing system specific to marsupials,
she needed to analyse their gene sequence. In the
process, she and her team of researchers discovered a
specific gene in marsupials that they hadn't expected
"Sequencing these genes gave us a real picture of how
complex marsupials are, when previously researchers
had believed they had much more primitive immune
systems," she says. It's also demonstrated their
closer genetic similarity to humans.
Marsupials and "eutherian" mammals -- animals
bor n with placentas such as dogs, cats and cows, as
well as humans -- last shared a common ancestor over
180 million years ago. Using traditional laboratory
Finding genetic links between humans, kangaroos
and other marsupials may break the code for major
disease research, writes M H .
techniques it's understandable that scientists hadn't
found a link. But with state- of-the-art technology and
predictive gene software, Young and her team cracked
the code and they are currently writing up their
"It is very exciting," Young says. " is discovery
is not just about helping us understand marsupial
immunology, we hope it will inform us about other
species such as Tasmanian Devils. We're working with
Tasmanian researchers right now."
Cur rently a Devil Facial Tumour Disease --
characterised by fatal facial cancers -- is sweeping
through Tasmania's Devil population and 60 per cent of
the state has been a ected.
e gene sequencing of marsupials will not only
help animals, it will also assist human immunology.
"By developing a good model system we may, for
example, be able to fight tuberculosis better, which is
currently on the increase worldwide," Young says. ■
PEOPLE AND THE
DR LAUREN YOUNG
Having begun her career in the food industry, working
in both quality assurance and product development,
Lauren Young now teaches at CQUniversity. She is
a course co-ordinator and lecturer in the following
areas: Molecular Biology and Cell Culture, Genome
Biotechnology, and Immunology. As well as her
Immunology research interests, Lauren has a keen
interest in secondary science education and assessment.
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