Regreening Australia with plastic; and work on colour-changing dragons earns Melbourne scientist an international honour

Bulletins, Media bulletins

Embargo 10:30am Tuesday 26 March

Can plastic help us restore native woodlands?

A smart degradable plastic developed in Australia is helping Greening Australia re-establish native woodlands in trials in low-rainfall areas.

It essentially forms a mini-greenhouse that traps moisture and boosts germination rates. As the seedlings grow the plastic breaks down – over three to six months.

You can see it in action at the launch of the extended CRC for Polymers in Reservoir in Melbourne tomorrow.

The plastic breaks down at a controlled rate thanks to some smart technology from the CRC and Melbourne business Integrated Packaging.

Integrated Packaging already has a plastic film that farmers in Ireland have been using to extend their short growing season for maizes.

With the CRC they are now able to more tightly control the rate at which the plastic film degrades.

This low-cost, high-value technology has the potential to allow the re-establishment of wildlife rich woodlands in challenging semi-arid and degraded lands.

With the help of the CRC they are now creating the next generation of the plastic film. The CRC’s technology allows them to control the rate it breaks down and opens the way to a wide range of other agricultural applications for degradable plastic films.

Ian Dagley, the CEO of the CRC for Polymers is available for interview.

Below is a media release from the CRC – more online at

And later this week: what disease is costing Australia more than type 2 diabetes? And what are Aussie scientists doing to help ease the burden?

Also in this bulletin:

  • The end of absolute poverty – Gates Foundation policy maker to visit Australia
  • And a wedding – Sarah and I and getting married

Launch of materials research centre to assist Australian manufacturing

Launch and embargo: 10.30 am Tuesday 26 March at Integrated Packaging, 83-85 Banbury Road, Reservoir Vic

Australia’s $9 billion polymers industry will be boosted by a national cooperative research initiative launched today.

The launch will feature a novel degradable plastic film that Greening Australia and the Birchip Cropping Group have shown can dramatically improve the re-establishment of native woodlands.

The initiative will bring science and industry together to develop products that meet emerging global needs in three areas – health therapies and delivery, water and food security, and low-cost solar energy – using enabling advanced polymer technology

The Head of Division for AusIndustry, Ms Chris Butler, today formally launched a five year extension of  the Cooperative Research Centre for Polymers (CRC-P) supported by funding of $14.5 million from the CRC program. With further resources provided by its participants, the CRC will conduct over $60 million of research to assist Australian manufacturing.

Polymers include plastics, and more than $9 billion worth of polymers and polymer-based products are used annually in almost all sectors of the Australian economy. The CRC-P has a strong track record of developing technologies for the plastics industry, including ceramifying polymer technology, first used in 2003 by Australia’s Olex Cables in new range of fire performance cables.

In this new period of funding the CRC will help Australian manufacturers develop new products through clever chemistry and strong industry collaboration. The CRC gives companies access to researchers like the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science winners – chemists Ezio Rizzardo and David Solomon – who know how to control the structure and composition of polymers so their properties are tailored to provide new and improved process and products. The products the CRC is targeting will provide Australians with products better suited to their needs. Some examples are:

  • A new single-injection vaccine for cattle tick that relies on a biopolymer-based delivery system. A single injection treatment is required to meet the industry standard of an annual muster of beef cattle in northern Australia.
  • Polymers that will help farmers increase crop yields, including polymer-based sprays for improving water penetration in water-repellent soils. Up to thirty percent of Australia’s cropping land is water-repellent and this land produces only ten percent of the nation’s broad acre crops.
  • Better polymer encapsulants for thin film solar cells. These are required to protect solar cells from the ingress of water and oxygen, so that they can continue to operate efficiently for at least 20 years in the harsh Australian climate.

The Polymer CRC includes five companies – Virbac Australia, BASF, BlueScope Steel, Mesoblast and Integrated Packaging – 11 universities, CSIRO and ANSTO among its 23 participants.

“The CRC will build resilience into Australian manufacturing by improving sustainability and product innovation, increasing its international competitiveness,” says Ian Dagley, CEO of the Polymer CRC. “The benefits will include productivity gains, increased sales of Australian made products, high-skill high-value manufacturing jobs, reduced carbon dioxide emissions and 40 broadly trained polymer researchers,” he says.

The launch was held at a Melbourne production site of Integrated Packaging, an Australian company and the largest local manufacturer of plastic stretch films. Integrated Packaging’s previous research with the CRC has resulted in improved technology to control the degradation of plastic films in the environment. One application of this technology being evaluated by this company in collaboration with Greening Australia and the Birchip Cropping Group is the mechanical application of degradable film over the seeds of native trees at the time of planting.

The film provides a temporary greenhouse that allows earlier planting, assists germination, improves water use efficiency and reduces pest damage. As the trees begin to grow the film breaks down. Continuing trials being conducted to evaluate the potential of this technology and refine it use have shown very encouraging results. This low cost, high value technology has the potential to allow the re-establishment of wildlife rich woodlands in challenging semi-arid and degraded lands.

Media contacts:

The end of absolute poverty – Gates Foundation policy maker to visit Australia

Geoffrey Lamb, Gates Foundation President of Global Policy and Advocacy will give the 2013 Graeme Clark Oration on Monday 29 April in Melbourne.

His visit comes just five days after World Malaria Day. Geoff will discuss the contributions of Australian scientists and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation towards the global fight against malaria.

He will have some time for a small number of high impact interviews while he’s here.

If you’ll be in Melbourne, you’re also invited to the Oration at the Melbourne Convention Centre at 5.30pm on 29 April. Let me know if you’re planning to come along.

In his Oration, Geoff will review the extraordinary successes of the past half century in reducing mortality and disease. He will show how investments in health have been critical for economic growth and the reduction of global poverty – and have helped bring the goal of an end to absolute global poverty within generational sight. “In retrospect the huge basic health advances of recent decades may have been the easy part,” Geoff says.

“What needs to be done to ensure the next transformation in global health, and make the end of absolute poverty attainable?”

Geoff leads the foundation’s international policy and advocacy team, and its engagement with governments and international institutions.

The Graeme Clark Oration is a free public lecture established to honour Professor Graeme Clark, inventor of the bionic ear. The Oration celebrates the new possibilities emerging from the convergence of biology, computing and engineering. It is hosted by the ICT for Life Sciences Forum, collaboration between Melbourne’s leading medical research institutes, hospitals and universities to share ideas about the convergence of biology and computer science.

More details about the Graeme Clark Oration at:

For interviews: Niall Byrne on 0417 131 977

And a wedding – Sarah and I and getting married

We noticed each other at a conference for the 50th anniversary of the discovery of DNA’s double helix.

Our first date was at an astronomy congress.

Our first travel together was to the World Congress of Science Journalists in Montreal.

Then we founded Science in Public together.

A decade on, and two recessive redhead boys later we’re getting married this Wednesday on the beach at Altona.

So please don’t call me about any of these stories. I am out of the office for the week!

I’ll be back with a cracking story involving colour changing dragons on Wednesday 3 April.

AJ will be happy to take your calls on 03 9398 1416 or 0433 339-141. He’ll also be watching my inbox.