Media releases

2019 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research

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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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.

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

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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Not long ago, the centre of the Milky Way exploded

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

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 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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Immune response depends on mathematics of narrow escapes

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

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

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

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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Pioneering collaboration between Indigenous communities and Macquarie wins Eureka Prize for STEM inclusion

The NISEP program has helped almost 1000 Indigenous school children enter leadership roles.

National Indigenous Science Education Program Eureka Prizes 2019 © Salty Dingo 2019 CRG-7382

The National Indigenous Science Education Program (NISEP), based at the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Sydney’s Macquarie University, won the inaugural the Eureka Prize for STEM Inclusion at the 2019 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.

The awards were held in Sydney on Wednesday, August 28.

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A New Hope for Coral Reefs: Largest-Ever Study Unlocks Global Solution to Save Coral Communities

Scientists urge priority action on hundreds of surviving reefs.

Image credit: Jeremy Bishop

The majority of 2500 reefs surveyed in a major international exercise retain the coral species that give them their distinctive structure.

More than 80 marine scientists, including several from Australia, contributed to the study, which is published in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution.

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Antiseptic resistance in bacteria could lead to next-gen plastics

Australia-UK researchers identify ancient protein pumps that make bacteria tough to treat – but could be key to new green polymers

The molecular machinery used by bacteria to resist chemicals designed to kill them could also help produce precursors for a new generation of nylon and other polymers, according to new research by scientists from Australia and the UK.

“Resistance to artificial antiseptics appears to be a lucky accident for the bacteria, and it could also be useful for humans,” says Professor Ian Paulsen of Australia’s Macquarie University, one of the leaders of the research group.

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Retro aviation, future climate, beer goggles, and Indigenous astronomy

Launch Saturday at Darwin Festival with artist Caro Macdonald. And 70+ Science Week events around the Territory:

  • What will Darwin look like under climate change? Artists journey to the future through virtual reality.
  • Costa Georgiadis gets dirty with soil science and Craig Reucassel brings the war on waste to Alice Springs.
  • Beer goggles and fitness tests with a health clinic on wheels.
  • How will the Territory meet a 50% renewable energy target?
  • Aviation history as theatre: the 1919 air race from London to Darwin brought to life on stage.
  • Learn from Indigenous astronomers how to use the night sky to navigate, determine the time of year and predict weather
  • A 3D outer space experience in Starlab’s Cosmodome Science Theatre & Planetarium
  • Spin until you’re dizzy and compare your reflexes to those of a Formula 1 driver: the science circus comes to town.
  • Take the Aha! Challenge and test your brain’s creative insight.

More on these highlights below, and others at www.scienceinpublic.com.au/science-week, and on Twitter at @SciWKMedia.

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National challenge seeks to get inside your head

Researchers set up Australia-wide experiment to explore why and when the pennies drop.

Scientists want to know the things that make you go “aha!”.

Throughout August, researchers from the University of Melbourne are conducting a country-wide citizen science project to better understand how the human brain works.

The focus of the project, dubbed The Aha! Challenge, is to investigate the kind of sudden problem-solving insight that makes you spontaneously exclaim “yes!” or “at last!” or, indeed, “aha!”. It’s the ABC’s community project for National Science Week.

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Using quantum dots and a smartphone to find killer bacteria

Australian scientists develop cheap and rapid way to identify antibiotic-resistant golden staph (MRSA).

Researchers Anwar Sunna (right) and Vinoth Kumar Rajendran with their smartphone-enabled MRSA detector.
Credit: Sunna Lab

A combination of off-the-shelf quantum dot nanotechnology and a smartphone camera soon could allow doctors to identify antibiotic-resistant bacteria in just 40 minutes, potentially saving patient lives.

Staphylococcus aureus (golden staph), is a common form of bacterium that causes serious and sometimes fatal conditions such as pneumonia and heart valve infections. Of particular concern is a strain that does not respond to methicillin, the antibiotic of first resort, and is known as methicillin-resistant S. aureus, or MRSA.

Recent reports estimate that 700 000 deaths globally could be attributed to antimicrobial resistance, such as methicillin-resistance. Rapid identification of MRSA is essential for effective treatment, but current methods make it a challenging process, even within well-equipped hospitals.

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Gender bending: baby turtles influence their own sex

Chinese-Australian research finds climate change good news, and solves an evolutionary mystery

Chinese Pond Turtle (Mauremys reevesii)
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Baby turtles influence their gender by moving around inside their eggs, research has revealed.

The idea that an embryo reptile can act in a way that affects its chances of developing as male or female has long been thought impossible, but findings by scientists from China and Australia have now provided clear proof of the process.

The research, published in the journal Current Biology, solves a long-standing evolutionary mystery – and offers hope that at least some species thought especially vulnerable to effects of climate change will prove more robust than thought.

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Anaemic star carries the mark of its ancient ancestor

Australian-led astronomers find the most iron-poor star in the Galaxy, hinting at the nature of the first stars in the Universe.

A visualisation of the formation of the first stars. Credit: Wise, Abel, Kaehler (KIPAC/SLAC)

A newly discovered ancient star containing a record-low amount of iron carries evidence of a class of even older stars, long hypothesised but assumed to have vanished.

In a paper published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters, researchers led by Dr Thomas Nordlander of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) confirm the existence of an ultra-metal-poor red giant star, located in the halo of the Milky Way, on the other side of the Galaxy about 35,000 light-years from Earth.

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Aussie sharks still at risk from industrial fishing, despite protections

Macquarie University’s Professor Rob Harcourt urges Oceania-wide action to safeguard several species.

Sharks in Australian waters are well protected but are at risk as soon as they leave them, a new international study reveals.

The North Atlantic blue shark shares much of its territory with longline fishing fleets. Credit: Neil Hammerschlag

The study compiled by 150 scientists around the world – including 26 with ties to Australia – has found that even in the most remote parts of the world’s oceans migratory sharks are in severe danger from commercial fishing fleets, new research reveals.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, more than 150 scientists, including Professor Rob Harcourt from the Department of Biological Sciences at Australia’s Macquarie University, report that the sharks – which include iconic species such as the shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus)  and the great white (Carcharodon carcharias) – congregate in food-rich areas that are also prime hunting grounds for commercial longline fishing fleets.

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Astronomer flies high to spy on star formation

Dr Stuart Ryder is venturing into the stratosphere on a NASA jet to study the birthplace of massive stars.

Macquarie University astronomer Dr Stuart Ryder is in New Zealand to hitch a ride on a NASA jet and take a closer look at how stars are born in one of the most active stellar nurseries ever seen.

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