This week at Science in Public

This Week

Should Australia allow mitochondrial donation?

  • Experts available for interview from 6.30 am Thursday, video available
  • Public events in Sydney, Melbourne and online, media call in Brisbane on Saturday
  • Case studies/patients also available from the Mito Foundation.
  • Media contact Niall Byrne, 0417 131 977, niall@scienceinpublic.com.au  

Unchanging hearts vs changing breasts: $50K prizes for the stem cell scientists unlocking their secrets.

Book your spot at the Fresh Science pub night. Hear the latest science over dinner and a drink: Adelaide (13 November).

Underwater grandmothers reveal big population of lethal sea snakes: A novel citizen science project in New Caledonia finds an ‘astonishing’ number of venomous reptiles in a popular swimming spot.
Media training places available in: Melbourne (19 November), Canberra (28 November), and Sydney (4 December)

Spin doctors: Astrophysicists find when galaxies rotate, size matters

Media releases, Other

Sky survey provides clues to how they change over time.

A simulation showing a section of the Universe at its broadest scale. A web of cosmic filaments forms a lattice of matter, enclosing vast voids. Credit: Tiamat simulation, Greg Poole

The direction in which a galaxy spins depends on its mass, researchers have found.

A team of astrophysicists analysed 1418 galaxies and found that small ones are likely to spin on a different axis to large ones. The rotation was measured in relation to each galaxy’s closest “cosmic filament” – the largest structures in the universe.

Filaments are massive thread-like formations, comprising huge amounts of matter – including galaxies, gas and, modelling implies, dark matter. They can be 500 million light years long but just 20 million light years wide. At their largest scale, the filaments divide the universe into a vast gravitationally linked lattice interspersed with enormous dark matter voids.

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Should Australia allow mitochondrial donation?

Other
  • Public events in Sydney 11 Nov, Melbourne 18 Nov and online
  • Case studies/patients also available from the Mito Foundation.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is inviting all Australians to provide their views on the use of a new assisted reproductive technology that might assist in preventing certain rare mitochondrial diseases but which requires careful ethical and social consideration. Consultation is open until Friday 29 November 2019.

Mitochondrial donation might be able to assist in the prevention of mitochondrial DNA disease in an estimated 60 children born each year in Australia.  However, there are social and ethical issues to consider including:

  • using mitochondrial DNA from a donor (using IVF technology) so that the child has DNA from three people
  • the rights of children to know their full genetic heritage
  • the potential risks and benefits of the technology, and
  • the implications for future generations.

Mitochondrial donation is in limited use in the UK and some other countries, but not Australia.

Australian law prohibits the creation of babies using DNA from more than two people and also prohibits making changes to an embryo or egg that can be passed down to future generations. NHMRC is asking the Australian community to consider the social and ethical issues associated with mitochondrial donation. NHMRC will then provide advice to the Australian Government.

“We’re asking the community to tell us what you think. Should Australia change the legislation to allow the use of mitochondrial donation in clinical practice?” says Professor Anne Kelso, CEO of NHMRC.

Read on for a list of experts and comments. All experts are available for interview.

Issues paper available at: www.nhmrc.gov.au/mito
Video with expert comments available at: http://bit.ly/2NeI7gW.
Public forums in Sydney on 11 November and Melbourne on 18 November plus online briefing.
Submissions close 29 November at www.nhmrc/gov.au/mito.

Media contacts:
Niall Byrne    M: 0417 131 977   E: niall@scienceinpublic.com.au   
NHMRC Media Team   M: 0422 008 512   E: media@nhmrc.gov.au

2019 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research

Media releases, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

Permanent hearts and changing breasts spur stem cell research

Winners of the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s Metcalf Prizes announced today

Monday 4 November 2019

Scientists available for interviews

Breast epithelial cells in culture, viewed through a microscope
Credit: Dr Teneale Stewart/Davis Lab, Mater Research Institute, UQ

The stubborn endurance of heart cells and remarkable plasticity of breasts have won two Queensland researchers $50,000 each in the annual Metcalf Prizes, awarded by the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.

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Stem cells and calcium affect breast function

National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

Brisbane scientist targets knowledge gap in women’s health

Mammary biologist Dr Felicity Davis is investigating how breasts change through life: how they develop during puberty, alter during pregnancy and change back after breastfeeding is complete.

A scientist at the University of Queensland’s Mater Research Institute, she is examining the role stem cells play in this remarkable tissue plasticity.

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Scientist mass produces mini-hearts

National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia

Brisbane scientist awarded for research tackling Australia’s biggest killer

Bioengineer Associate Professor James Hudson has developed a new way to mass-produce human heart tissue from stem cells.

The achievement will help researchers study diseases, screen new drugs, and investigate heart development and repair.

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Underwater grandmothers reveal big population of lethal sea snakes

Macquarie University, Media releases

A novel citizen science project in New Caledonia finds an ‘astonishing’ number of venomous reptiles in a popular swimming spot.

Fantastic grandmother Monique Mazière photographing sea snake number 79, nicknamed Déborah. Credit: Claire Goiran/UNC

A group of snorkelling grandmothers is helping scientists better understand marine ecology by photographing venomous sea snakes in waters off the city of Noumea, New Caledonia.

Two years ago the seven women, all in their 60s and 70s, who call themselves “the fantastic grandmothers”, offered to help scientists Dr Claire Goiran from the University of New Caledonia and Professor Rick Shine from Australia’s Macquarie University in their quest to document the sea snake population in a popular swimming spot known as Baie des citrons.

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Lonesome no more: white sharks hang with buddies

Macquarie University, Media releases

Apex marine predators choose who they hang with, researchers reveal.

A white shark (Carcharodon Carcharias). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

White sharks form communities, researchers have revealed.

Although normally solitary predators, white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) gather in large numbers at certain times of year in order to feast on baby seals.

These groupings, scientists had assumed, were essentially random – the result of individual sharks all happening to turn up in the same area, attracted by abundant food.

Now, however, a group of researchers including behavioural ecologist Stephan Leu from Macquarie University in New South Wales, Australia, have used photo-identification and network analysis to show that many of the apex predators hang out in groups which persist for years.

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$2.5 million CSL Centenary Fellowships announced

CSL Limited

Curing the ‘hidden malaria’ in Asia/Pacific (Darwin)

A path to personalised treatment for most cancers (Adelaide)

Two Australian scientists have each been awarded AUD$1.25 million CSL Centenary Fellowships over five years to improve treatments for two of the world’s biggest health challenges: malaria and cancer. The Fellowships will be presented in Perth at the Australian Academy for Health and Medical Research Gala Dinner on 10 October.

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Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science

2019 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science: don’t call us.

For information about the 2019 Prizes please visit www.industry.gov.au/pmscienceprizes.

We had a great run with the Prizes from 2004 to 2018. But all good things come to an end. So please don’t contact us for media information, go straight to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science at media@industry.gov.au. We will be at the dinner on 16 October waiting with bated breath to find out who the 2019 winners are. 

15 years ago, Peter McGauran, Gemma Allman and Virginia Cook placed their trust in us to publicise the Prizes when Science in Public was in its infancy. As awareness of the Prizes has grown so has Science in Public. Please read on for some comments on our journey with the Prizes and for our thanks to the many people who contributed.  Or jump to the next post to access profiles of past winners. 

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Not long ago, the centre of the Milky Way exploded

Media releases

Researchers find evidence of a cataclysmic flare that punched so far out of the Galaxy its impact was felt 200,000 light years away.

An artist’s impression of the massive bursts of ionising radiation exploding from the centre of the Milky Way and impacting the Magellanic Stream.
Credit: James Josephides/ASTRO 3D

A titanic, expanding beam of energy sprang from close to the supermassive black hole in the centre of the Milky Way just 3.5 million years ago, sending a cone-shaped burst of radiation through both poles of the Galaxy and out into deep space.

That’s the finding arising from research conducted by a team of scientists led by Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) and soon to be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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It’s complicated: coral bleaching is caused by more than just heat

Macquarie University, Media releases

Analysis of reef damage in the Indo-Pacific during the 2016 El Nino reveals that several different stressors influence bleaching.

Coral responses to temperature depend on a range of local inputs. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Scientists in the Indian and Pacific Oceans used the El Nino of 2016 – the warmest year on record – to evaluate the role of excess heat as the leading driver of coral bleaching and discovered the picture was more nuanced than existing models showed.

The findings were, in a word, complicated, according to marine researchers led by the US based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The international cohort included scientists from Macquarie University in NSW, the University of Queensland, University of WA and two western Australian state government departments.

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Fast radio burst provides clues to galactic halo

Macquarie University, Media releases

Macquarie astronomers find a well of serenity in deep space.

Masters student Lachlan Marnoch has been credited as co-author in a paper in Science before even submitting his thesis. Credit Macquarie University

A massive galaxy four billion light-years from Earth is surrounded by a halo of tranquil gas.

The finding, which reveals a galactic halo much less dense and less magnetised than expected, was made by a team of astronomers that included two researchers from Macquarie University.

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Meet the Freshies at the Pub

Fresh Science

Bright ideas and beer combine when Australia’s Fresh Scientists strut their stuff at 2019’s Fresh Science Pub Nights.

Fresh Science is annual competition that invites early-career scientists to present their fascinating research in the time it takes for a sparkler to burn out.

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Talk to media, business, government: sessions in Cairns and Townsville this week

Other

We’re holding a series of courses at JCU in Cairns and Townsville.

Meet working journalists from TV, radio and online, learn what they need, and how to keep it accurate – Cairns on Tuesday 17 September, Townsville on 19 September and Monday 23 September.

Find out how to talk to business, government and the community: Cairns on Wednesday 18 September, Townsville on Friday 20 September.

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Immune response depends on mathematics of narrow escapes

Macquarie University, Media releases

The shape of immune cells plays key role in recognising invaders.

The ruffled surface of a T cell means only very small areas make close contact with potential enemy cells. CREDIT: Blausen Medical

The way immune cells pick friends from foes can be described by a classic maths puzzle known as the “narrow escape problem”.

That’s a key finding arising from an international collaboration between biologists, immunologists and mathematicians, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The narrow escape problem is a framework often applied in cellular biology. It posits randomly moving particles trapped in a space with only a tiny exit, and calculates the average time required for each one to escape.

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There’s no place like home: butterflies stick to their burbs

Macquarie University, Media releases

Members of at least one species choose mates and egg sites based on where they were born, research reveals

Two American passionfruit butterflies, Heliconius charithonia, part of Dr Darrell Kemp’s research cohort.
Credit: Darrell Kemp.

Birthplace exerts a lifelong influence on butterflies as well as humans, new research reveals.

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Macquarie University ARC Future Fellow Associate Professor Darrell Kemp reveals that the American passionfruit butterfly, Heliconius charithonia, selects its mate and egg-laying site based on the species of plant that hosted its own egg.

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And then there was light: looking for the first stars in the Universe

Media releases

Researchers hunt for a 12-billion-year-old signal that marks the end of the post Big Bang “dark age”.

In this image of the Epoch of Reionisation, neutral hydrogen, in red, is gradually ionizsed by the first stars, shown in white.Credit: Paul Geil and Simon Mutch

Astronomers are closing in on a signal that has been travelling across the Universe for 12 billion years, bringing them nearer to understanding the life and death of the very earliest stars.

In a paper on the preprint site arXiv and soon to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, a team led by Dr Nichole Barry from Australia’s University of Melbourne and the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) reports a 10-fold improvement on data gathered by the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) – a collection of 4096 dipole antennas set in the remote hinterland of Western Australia.

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Blue Carbon Horizons team wins Eureka Prize for Environmental Research

Eureka Prizes, Macquarie University, Media releases

Collaboration investigates the link between changing sea levels, global warming and the health of marine wetlands.

Blue Carbon Horizons Team Eureka Prizes 2019 © Salty Dingo 2019 CRG-7409

Carbon dioxide capture by coastal ecosystems operates in direct relation to the speed of sea level rise.

That was the conclusion of extensive research conducted by a team of scientists from Macquarie University, University of Wollongong and ANSTO – work that has now won the scientists the NSW Environment, Energy and Science (DPIE) Eureka Prize for Environmental Research.

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Riding the nurdle wave to a Eureka

Other

Science In Public’s Michael Lucy wins a Eureka Prize

Michael Lucy, winner Finkel Foundation Eureka Prize for Long- Science Journalism. 2019 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes © Salty Dingo 2019 CRG

Michael won the award – presented at a glittering ceremony at the Australian Museum in Sydney on Wednesday, August 28 – for a feature he wrote on plastic pollution. The story was published in Cosmos magazine.

At the time of publication, Michael was also features editor of the magazine, working alongside editor Andrew Masterson – who is now editor-in-chief at Science In Public.

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