Marsupial milk – koalas & wombats

Lead Chief Investigators:

Kathy Belov, The University of Sydney

Michelle Colgrave, Edith Cowan University

Richard Payne, The University of Sydney



Marsupial joeys rely on maternal milk for nutrition for 9 months after birth, with the composition of milk changing according to the developmental stage of the joey. If orphaned during this time joeys are usually unable to be hand reared due to a lack of suitable milk substitutes and are often euthanised. Characterising the key components in koala and wombat milk at different time points during lactation would enable the production of a synthetic milk and/or an alternative milk product (produced by cellular agriculture). Not only would this help save joeys, but it could potentially inform conservation efforts of other threatened marsupials and identify novel antimicrobial peptides for human benefit.


Relevance to the Centre

This project aligns with the Centre’s vision of discovering novel bioactive peptides from nature. The project is a collaboration between CI Colgrave, CI Belov, CI Payne and CIPPS postdoctoral research staff. Enhanced knowledge of the marsupial milk transcriptomes and proteomes and their changes throughout lactation, as well as genetic mechanisms for their regulation will benefit conservation efforts. There are potential paths to translation with start-up companies such as Vow Foods (cellular agriculture) or Wombaroo (milk producer) or with pharmaceutical companies.