Photo in the News: Test-Tube Koala Babies Debut

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October 30, 2006—Putting to rest any fears of a cuteness shortage, Australian scientists announced today they had invented a new way to create koalas in a lab.

Three in-vitro joeys (pictured with their mothers and wildlife officer Lindy Thomas) made their debuts at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary near the town of Gold Coast in Queensland state (Australia map).

Each baby koala had been created by combining sperm and an egg, then placing the fertilized egg back inside the mother.

But why?

Adorability notwithstanding, the test-tube koalas are by-products of a project to establish the use of long-shelf-life koala sperm as a means of shoring up vulnerable populations. Though the tree-dwelling marsupials are not considered endangered, they are suffering in isolated regions of Australia.

"We've been able to dilute the sperm down to a medium which allows it to be kept alive for long periods of time," Steve Johnston, a reproductive biologist at the University of Queensland, said in a statement.

"The next vital step is the use of chilled sperm and then thawed frozen sperm from the sperm bank."

Johnston adds that this first ever koala sperm bank will screen for diseases and help preserve the diversity of the species.

—Ted Chamberlain

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