Milk and pouch sampling of Tasmanian monotreme and marsupial species

Application for Scientific Permit – Available for Public Comment ​

Public Comment on the following application for a Scientific Research (fauna) Permit is open unil 15 November 2023.

Applicant: The University of Sydney

Species/Taxon: Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), Bennetts wallaby (Notamacropus rufogriseus), Tasmanian pademelon (Thylogale billarbierii), brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), Ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus), southern brown bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus), eastern barred bandicoot (Perameles gunnii), eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus), spotted-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), common wombat (Vombatus ursinus) and platypus (Ornithorhychus anatinus)

Location: Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, 593 Briggs Rd, Brighton TAS 7030. Land tenure Private Freehold, tenure ID 21679

Title of research: Understanding the function of marsupial and monotreme milk and pouches

Aim of project: Characterise changes in milk immune proteins and pouch microbiome throughout lactation to identify factors that influence joey development and survival. In addition, we will characterise platypus venom to better understand its composition and potential role in platypus biology.

Justification:Marsupials differ to eutherian mammals, such as humans, in that they have a short gestation of around 30 days and give birth to underdeveloped young that are immunologically naïve. These young continue development within the pouch that contains a diverse range of microbes, supported by a long lactation of around a year. The milk also provides immunological protection, alongside antimicrobial peptides secreted within the pouch skin. Orphaned joeys that are hand-raised do not receive this immunological protection and hence often fail to thrive. Our current understanding of immune proteins in marsupial milk, and the influence of pouch microbiome on joey health, is extremely limited. By sequencing the milk and mammary gland transcriptome and proteome, and pouch microbiome of ten marsupial species throughout lactation, we will identify key factors involved in joey development and survival. This will ultimately lead to the development of a synthetic milk supplement for orphaned joeys that provides immunological support lacking from current​ formulas. In addition, we will identify novel antimicrobial peptides from milk, mammary gland, pouch skin and platypus venom to give us a better understanding of their biology. Through sequencing the platypus crural gland transcriptome, we will understand the key bioactive components in venom that will aid in the management and treatment of platypus spur injuries.

Maximum likely numbers of individuals involved:Up to 60 individuals of each species will be sampled. Individuals will only be sampled once.

Activities undertaken and methods:Sampling will take place at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. All animals will be captured using a minimally invasive method that utilizes breathable hessian bags. Samples will be collected from captive Tasmanian devils, as well as wild sick and injured individuals of 10 marsupial species and platypus that are admitted to the on-site veterinary clinic for treatment. Samples will only be collected when individuals are anaesthetised for veterinary treatment according to standard procedures; animals will not be anaesthetised solely for the purposes of this study. Milk samples will be collected during mid and late lactation by stripping fingers along the teat and collecting into a syringe. Milk will not be collected during early lactation (when the joey is permanently attached to the teat) except in the instance of joey loss. Pouch swabs will be collected by running a sterile swab along the inside of the pouch ten times. Following sample collection, animals will be moved to a recovery enclosure located adjacent to the veterinary clinic and monitored for at least 24 hours. Opportunistic tissue samples (mammary gland, pouch skin and crural gland) will only be collected when individuals are euthanised for veterinary reasons. In this instance, a 2cm cube of tissue will be collected during the postmortem.

Fate of animals: Wild individuals will be rehabilitated and released to the wild. Captive Tasmanian devils will be returned to their normal enclosure at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.

Likely impact on species involved (including any by-catch): None


Scientific Research Permits

Environment Division
GPO Box 44,
Hobart, TAS, 7000.