Cancer; ocean arteries; plus experts on every natural disaster in town

Bulletins, Media bulletins

Ocean warming, ice sheets and sea-level rise: what does it mean for Australia? And could we have an earthquake or tsunami here?

Talk with experts on vulcanology; ocean warming; aerosols and pollution; volcanic ash plumes; the global survey of the atmosphere of Venus; the Russian heatwave and other natural disasters. And meet leaders of the Southern California Earthquake Center, French space agency CNES, the US Nuclear Regulatory Authority, the British Antarctic Survey.

Experts on almost every kind of natural disaster are in Australia for Earth on the Edge, an international earth sciences conference being held in Melbourne till Thursday 7 July.

Plus, new research at the University of Melbourne and the Bureau of Meteorology has overturned conventional ideas of ocean circulation. Our ocean currents sway left to right as well as spinning round north to south.

And Melbourne researchers have uncovered why certain cancers don’t respond to conventional chemotherapy, highlighting the need to match treatments to cancers better.

More on all of these below.

Match your treatment to your cancer

Cell death genes essential for cancer therapy identified

New research has uncovered why certain cancers don’t respond to conventional chemotherapy, highlighting the need to match treatments to cancers better.

Cancer researcher Lina Happo and colleagues at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have identified three ‘cell death’ genes that are crucial for making anti-cancer drugs more effective at killing cancer cells.

The discovery could be the first step in developing new cancer treatments that target only cancer cells.

Most currently available chemotherapy drugs do not distinguish between normal and cancerous cells, Lina says. This means when using them that collateral damage to healthy cells—the origin of side effects—is unavoidable.

“By understanding which of the three genes we identified are required for successful drug responses, medical researchers should be able to work out how conventional cancer therapies work, and why they sometimes fail,” Lina says.

Programmed cell death, or apoptosis, removes unwanted or dangerous cells from our bodies, protecting us against cancer and autoimmune diseases.

The process is regulated by a family of genes called Bcl-2.

“Many anti-cancer drugs act by damaging the DNA in tumour cells, causing the cells themselves to commit suicide. Until now we didn’t know which genes were essential for this process,” Lina says.

Working with colleagues from the institute’s Molecular Genetics of Cancer division, she was able to identify that three Bcl-2 genes – puma, noxa and bim – tell cancer cells to commit suicide following treatment with conventional chemotherapy drugs.

How ocean arteries carry life across the Indian Ocean

Australian researchers have revealed a new pattern of ocean circulation which will change our understanding of marine events.

Research at the University of Melbourne and the Bureau of Meteorology has overturned conventional ideas of ocean circulation.

Rather than moving simply in large clockwise (northern hemisphere) and anti-clockwise (southern hemisphere) gyres, the open waters of the southeast Indian Ocean are flowing east-west in bands, Prasanth Divakaran, a PhD candidate in the University’s School of Earth Sciences, and his colleagues have shown.

The findings have important implications for our understanding of all sorts of ocean events from the movements of fish and marine life to the prediction of weather and climate.

“For instance,” he says, “We found that ocean eddies—the marine analogues of atmospheric weather systems like tropical cyclones—form off Australia and begin a three-year journey across the Indian Ocean along what we call ‘ocean arteries’, transporting sea-water and biology with them.”

Experts on natural disasters in town: our earth in all its moods

Till next Thursday, 7 July, Australia is hosting a conference earth scientists who will be providing the most up-to-date information on the Japanese tsunami, the safety of nuclear installations, the Christchurch earthquake, Cyclone Yasi, the ash clouds and more.

Earth on the Edge is the 25th General Assembly of the International Union of Geophysics and Geodesy (IUGG) and has attracted almost 4,000 delegates from around 100 countries.

Here are a just a few of the speakers and topics:

  • Get an overview of the breadth of science being presented: Ray Cas, a volcanologist at Monash University and Chair of the IUGG conference organising committee.
  • Risk management, climate change and biofuels: Tom Beer, CSIRO and the first Australian to hold the role of President of the IUGG. Tom can also talk generally on the conference program.
  • Internal structure of the Earth, ocean, inland waters and climate: Anny Cazenave, French space agency CNES and deputy director of the LEGOS space geophysics and oceanography research laboratory at the Observatoire Midi-Pyrenees in Toulouse, France (
  • Ice-sheet change in Antarctica and Greenland plus protecting out coastal communities and infrastructure: while we have made notable progress in monitoring change in the ice sheets, we are still some way off knowing how to predict the future.
    And our planners are not getting the projections they need: David Vaughan, British Antarctic Survey.
    David is leading the efforts to measure ice fields and deliver global sea-level rise projections for the next 200 years.
  • A prize for mixing

    Tasmania’s Dr Trevor McDougall will receive the Prince Albert 1 Medal today for his research into the role of the oceans in our planet’s climate.

    How oceans mix and the nature of salt water itself, are two of the key questions that Trevor is answering.  are key questions in defining Dr McDougall’s research is concentrated on fundamental issues in the field of ocean mixing and particularly how the known conservation equations should be properly averaged and included in ocean models.

    Dr McDougall’s research, on the full range of oceanic scales – from centimetres to giant (~100 km) eddies – is having a major impact on our understanding of mixing and contributing to the computer models that help us understand our changing climate.

  • Venus Express –what’s the weather forecast for Venus today.
    Dmitriy Titov was science coordinator for Venus Express, a spacecraft that’s been studying the atmosphere of Venus for more than five years. He can talk about the harsh climate on Venus and its implications for our planet.

And on Friday

  • Prehistoric Pacific tsunamis – there’s been some big ones
  • The Russian heatwave and other recent climate extremes
  • Climate engineering  – can we stop climate change with geoengineering?
  • More on sea level rises.

Where: Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

Conference program available at:

Follow the IUGG conference on twitter – #IUGG2011

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