Media bulletin: could your hair colour determine your child’s sex? Biotech, Beagle and 100 Hours of Astronomy

Media bulletins

Could your hair colour determine your child’s sex?

In Gouldian finches the answer is yes-according to an Australian paper published in the journal Science today. The paper challenges our view of sex determination in animals.

The full media release is below. The lead author Sarah Pryke, is a L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellow and ARC Fellow at Macquarie University. She’s good talent.


For more information on these stories, read below or call me.

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03 9398 1416

Could your hair colour determine your child’s sex?

In Gouldian finches the answer is yes-according to an Australian paper published in the journal Science today. The paper challenges our view of sex determination in animals.

“Over eighty per cent of Gouldian finch chicks will be male if their mother sees that the father has a different coloured head,” says the lead author Sarah Pryke, a L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellow and ARC Fellow at Macquarie University.

The key word is ‘sees’-the change isn’t due to any chemical or genetic interaction between the parents. Simply change the colour of the male’s head with hair dye and the female subconsciously changes the sex ratio of her offspring.

“This discovery will change our understanding of sex determination across the animal kingdom,” says Sarah.

“Gouldian finches wear their genes on their head.  These colourful native birds have three possible head colours-red, yellow and black. So it was relatively easy to construct an experiment to determine the influence of head colour on sex.”

“We expected some influence on sex ratio,” she says, “but it was a surprise to find that 82.1 per cent of the offspring were male.”

Why is it so? “Daughters produced from mixed matings-where parents differ in head colour – suffer from genetic incompatibilities between their parents that cause about 84 per cent to die young,” says Sarah.

So it’s in the finch’s best interest to mate with a male with the same head colour. If a female has no other option but to mate with a male of different head colour, she will produce mainly sons to maximise the chicks’ chances of survival.

Only a few thousand Gouldian finches remain in the wild-all in the remote northern savannas of tropical Australia. So Sarah and her colleagues worked with a captive breeding colony established by the Save the Gouldian Fund at Martinsville in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney.

Innovation Fund a small step in the right direction

Issued by the BioMelbourne Network

The BioMelbourne Network welcomes the $83 million Innovation Investment Follow-on Fund (IIFF) announced on Wednesday.  We hope this is only the first step, as $83 million shared with the wider innovation sector will not deliver the necessary funds that the biotech sector desperately needs and which it lost with the close of the Commercial Ready program last year.

The depletion of the biotech sector means that Australia is at risk of loosing the return on medical research effort and investment in institutions and universities which need the biotech industry to take discoveries forward to turn them into products that will save lives and jobs.  The biotech industry is the delivery arm of the medical and agricultural research community.

“An $83 million carrot is an appealing incentive for the ailing biotech sector, particularly in Victoria, but biotechs will be competing for funds with ICT and clean tech companies who are traditionally more attractive prospects for a venture capital funding model,” said Michelle Gallaher, CEO of the BioMelbourne Network.

“I’m concerned that the valuable Victorian biotech sector may not see much of this money and if so, it’s likely to only be a few companies that are already of interest to the venture capital community.”

Full release at

For interviews: Michelle Gallaher, Chief executive Officer, BioMelbourne Network, Mobile: 0417 784 856

100 Hours of Astronomy: an event 400 years in the making

One of the major cornerstone events of the UN-designated International Year of Astronomy, 100 Hours of Astronomy, will take place over 2-5 April.

This global event will see millions of people all over the world coming out onto the streets at night to participate in “star parties” or public viewings of the sky through telescopes – just as Galileo did for the first time 400 years ago. Amateur astronomy groups, observatories, arts and scientific institutions around Australia are organising public events for the 100 Hours.

During 2-5 April the Moon will be just over half full and a splendid sight in the early evenings. The planet Saturn will also be well placed for viewing.

To find out what’s happening in your area, go to the Australian International Year of Astronomy website and follow the Events Calendar link. The international site 100 Hours of Astronomy also lists some Australian events.

As well as public star-watching events, there will be a live webcast from the largest telescopes around the world – featuring almost 70 professional observatories from Arizona to Shanghai, the Hubble Space Telescope to the Vatican – during a 24-hour period. Astronomers all over the globe will take viewers inside their telescope domes and control rooms at some of the most advanced observatories on and off the planet.

Australian observatories participating in the webcast are the Anglo-Australian Observatory (Coonabarabran, NSW), the Australian Interferometric Gravitational Observatory (Gingin, WA), the Parkes Observatory (NSW) and the Mount Pleasant Observatory 26-metre Radio telescope (Hobart, Tasmania).

Maritime exhibition on Darwin at sea opens in Sydney

Join Charles Darwin aboard the Beagle in Charles Darwin – voyages and ideas that shook the world, at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney, opening Friday 20 March. See how Darwin lived aboard the Beagle and examine some of the specimens he collected on the voyage which set him on the path to his theory of evolution.

Coinciding with the opening of the exhibition, a symposium In the wake of the Beagle: Science in the Southern Oceans from the Age of Darwin is being held at the National Maritime Museum on 20-21 March. Internationally acclaimed speakers will explore the work of Darwin and his contemporaries, Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley and Alfred Wallace, and their influence on current scientific research.

And also at the ANMM, Happy Birthday Mr Darwin on Thursday 26 March. What were the contributions of artist Conrad Martens, who spent a year on the Beagle, and Joseph Hooker, who classified Darwin’s Galapagos plants and became his greatest friend.

Read about these and other events at

Kind regards,



Niall Byrne

Science in Public

ph +61 (3) 9398 1416 or 0417 131 977

Full contact details at