Laura Boland

Does a brain in a dish have moral rights?

Inventors of brain-cell-based computer work with international team of ethicists exploring ethical applications of bio-computing

No longer limited to the realm of science fiction, bio-computing is here, so now is the time to start considering how to research and apply this technology responsibly, an international group of experts says.

The inventors of DishBrain have partnered with bioethicists and medical researchers to map such a framework to help define and address the problem in a paper published in Biotechnology Advances.

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HeadStartSwiss: early career opportunities to study or work in Switzerland

Early career researchers and young professionals are invited to apply to undertake study, work experience and/or research in Switzerland, through the following programs:

  • Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships – for doctoral and postdoctoral candidates, as well as candidates wishing to undertake research in the realm of their PhD or medical specialisation. Open now.
  • Mertz Fellowship – for early-career researchers from the polar and high-altitude science fields. Now closed.
  • Young Professionals Programme – for Australian citizens aged 20-30 who have completed vocational training (apprenticeship or university degree) now working in the profession in which they trained. Open for applications year-round.
  • ThinkSwiss program for students who have completed their second year of under-graduate studies or are currently enrolled in a post-graduate (Master’s) degree. Open now.

Hear from past scholars below:

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First responders in our skin and gut revealed

Offering new ways to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases

A decade ago, University of Melbourne’s Professor Laura Mackay discovered the “first responders” of our immune system, a unique population of T cells based in our skin, gut and other barrier tissues.

Now she’s working to super-charge their protective power to clear infections and fight cancer, and to calm them down to avoid skin autoimmune disease.

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A treatment for every child

“Children are not little adults, their cancers are different”

Sydney’s Professor David Ziegler plans to be able to improve treatment for every child with cancer.

He’s working in the clinic to trial treatments for the fatal brain stem tumour DIPG, Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma.

And he’s driving the development of the national Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO) – to give every child with cancer the best chance of an effective treatment.

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Brain cells living on the edge

DishBrain reveals how human neurons work together to process information

Living model of brain could give insights into the mechanisms of how we understand and experience the world

A paper published in Nature Communications shows that when neurons are given information  about the changing world around them (task-related sensory input) it changes how they behave, putting them on edge so that tiny inputs can then set off ‘avalanches’ of brain activity, supporting a theory known as the critical brain hypothesis.

The researchers, from Cortical Labs and The University of Melbourne, used DishBrain – a collection of 800,000 human neural cells learning to play Pong.

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Magpie swoops top spot in poll to find Australia’s Favourite Animal Sound

Did you ‘call it’? Or do the results ruffle your feathers?

The magpie’s warbling has won over the nation, taking out number one in ABC’s search for Australia’s Favourite animal sound. The call of the magpie was a clear winner, attracting over a staggering 36% of the votes in the final round.

“The magpie’s warble is part of almost every soundscape in Australia,” says Dr Dominique Potvin, a behavioural ecologist and senior lecturer in Animal Ecology at the University of the Sunshine Coast. “Its song has regional dialects, developed through learning from older generations. So it’s an ancient song, but it keeps evolving. Magpies come together to sing these melodies in a duet or chorus by family groups, letting others know the territory they occupy,” says Dominique.

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A prize for nonsense and quality control

mRNA ‘quality control’ pioneers Allan Jacobson and Lynne Maquat receive US$500,000 Gruber Genetics Prize in Melbourne

Every plant, every animal, every human depends on mRNA to accurately translate the DNA of their genetic code into proteins, the building blocks of life.

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$442 billion economic loss by 2100: the economic impact of sea level rise and storm surge on Victoria revealed

By 2100, the impacts of sea level rise and storm surge are predicted to result in a $442 billion economic loss according to a study led by the University of Melbourne and commissioned by the Victorian Marine & Coastal Council and Life Saving Victoria.

  • Impacts on land and property along the Victorian coast are predicted to reach a loss of $337 billion, with a further loss of up to $105 billion for wetlands.
  • More than 80,000 existing residential, commercial, and industrial properties covering 45,000 hectares will be impacted.
  • 144,000 hectares of coastal reserves will be affected as will 288,000 hectares of Victoria’s wetlands.
  • The cumulative impact will be about $40 billion by 2040. Without action, it will grow ten times as 2100 approaches.
  • Appropriate action over the next decade will dramatically reduce the long-term costs.
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