Life Sciences

Beatrix Potter, pioneering scientist; using whales and fish to trace emerging viruses; travelling back in time; and uniting women in earth and environmental sciences

Female scientists have played a critical role in many scientific discoveries throughout history, but their contributions have often been overlooked.

Ahead of International Women’s Day this Thursday, Macquarie University scientists are celebrating the work of forgotten women of science through history; explaining how their work today is changing the world; and making the case for why women in earth and environmental sciences need to stand together.

  • Lesley Hughes researches the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems. Now she’s celebrating the work of Beatrix Potter and other pioneering but forgotten women of science, through the exhibition Hidden Figures of STEMM.
  • Evolutionary biologist Jemma Geoghegan is using whales and fish to better understand how new viruses emerge.
  • Kira Westaway uses glowing grains of sand to travel back in time. Her work has transformed our understanding of human evolution.
  • Volcanologist Heather Handley’s research into volcanoes in the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ is improving our understanding of volcanic hazards. She’s also the co-founder and chair of new network Women in Earth and Environmental Sciences Australasia (WOMESSA).

More on each of these stories  below.

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New rotavirus vaccine could benefit millions of children

A rotavirus vaccine that can be given days after birth has been developed by Australian and Indonesian researchers.

Rotavirus is the common cause  of severe diarrhoea and a killer of approximately 215,000 children under five globally each year.

The oral vaccine, called RV3-BB, was given in three single doses, the first within five days of birth. Until now, the vaccine against rotavirus was available in Australia and only on the private market in Indonesia, and could only be administered from six weeks of age.

After three doses of RV3-BB administered from birth:

  • 94 per cent of infants were protected in their first year of life against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis
  • 75 per cent of infants were protected to 18 months of age.

The success of the RV3-BB vaccine is the culmination of more than four decades of work, which started with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s Professor Ruth Bishop and the discovery of rotavirus in 1973.

The trial was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and PT BioFarma.

Read the full media release on the MCRI website.

Read an earlier story on the work in our Stories of Indonesia-Australia Innovation collection from 2016.

Microbial mass movements: the millions of species we ignore at our peril

Michael Gillings (Credit: Chris Stacey, Macquarie University)

Science paper Friday, 15 September 2017

Background information below.

More high-res images available below.

Wastewater, tourism, and trade are moving microbes around the globe at an unprecedented scale. As we travel the world we leave billions of bacteria at every stop.

As with rats, foxes, tigers and pandas, some microbes are winners, spreading around the world into new ecological niches we’ve created. Others are losing, and might face extinction. These changes are invisible, so why should we care?

“Yes, our survival may depend on these microbial winner and losers,” say a team of Australian, Chinese, French, British and Spanish researchers in a paper published in Science today.

“The oxygen we breathe is largely made by photosynthetic bacteria in the oceans (and not by rainforests, as is commonly believed),” says Macquarie University biologist Michael Gillings.

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Reinventing the laser

Caring for Country in Arnhem Land
Macquarie University Eureka Prize winners

Macquarie University congratulates its winners in the 2017 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes and the winner of the Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Outstanding Early Career Researcher.

High-power diamond lasers invented at Macquarie University

High-power lasers have many potential applications: from medical imaging to manufacturing, shooting down drones or space junk, or powering deep space probes. But current laser technologies overheat at high power.

Rich Mildren and his team have developed a technique to make diamond lasers that, in theory, have extraordinary power range. Five years ago, their lasers were just a few watts in power. Now they’ve reached 400 watts, close to the limit for comparable conventional lasers.

Rich Mildren won the Defence Science and Technology Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia.

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Indonesian and Australian scientists test new TB vaccine targets for the TB fight in Indonesia and Australia

World TB Day on March 24 reminds us of the growing TB threat

Scientists available for interview in English and Bahasa Indonesia for World TB Day. Read the release in Bahasa Indonesia.
More images below.

Better vaccines are needed for the global fight against tuberculosis (TB). The Global Fund reports an estimated nine million new cases globally per year of TB, which is second only to AIDS as the world’s most deadly infectious disease. Indonesia had more than 320,000 reported cases in 2014 according to the World Health Organization, while Australia’s reported cases were just over 1,000. But the rise of drug-resistant TB poses a threat to all countries.

Two proteins from the tuberculosis bacterium have shown promising results in investigations in mice for a new vaccine. Scientists from the Centenary Institute and the University of Sydney, with colleagues at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Yogyakarta, have found that the injected proteins can prime the immune system to induce protection against TB in mice.

The team has established a laboratory and immunological techniques to test if the two proteins from the tuberculosis bacterium can be used as the basis for a vaccine. Credit: Centenary Institute

The team has established a laboratory and immunological techniques to test if the two proteins from the tuberculosis bacterium can be used as the basis for a vaccine. Credit: Centenary Institute

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From the bionic ear to the ‘audiologist in your pocket

The Aussie hearing system you can set up yourself or for your gran: online and on your phone

From the bionic ear to the ‘audiologist in your pocket’ – high performance, low cost hearing for the four million of us who don’t want to admit our hearing loss

Images and background information below.

An Australian company has completed a trifecta of tools to help Australians take care of their own hearing without the stress and expense of audiology visits. It’s the product of decades of government-backed research. [continue reading…]

Interpretative dance coaxes bees into quick decisions on nest sites

14171849136_6a20a4805e_oWednesday 9 July 2014

Video and photos of bees available
Scientist available for interview

Dr James Makinson evicts bees from their homes for a good reason—to figure out how they collectively decide on the next place to live. His research on bee communication and consensus-building has been published in this month’s issue of Animal Behaviour.

James and his colleagues at the University of Sydney in partnership with two universities in Thailand have found that not all honeybee species think like the common Western hive bee when it comes to deciding on a place to nest.

Two little-known species—the giant Asian honeybee and the tiny red dwarf honeybee—use a more  rapid collective decision-making process that enables them to choose a new home quickly. But they aren’t as fussy when it comes to the quality of their new home.

It’s work that could help with understanding and managing honeybees for pollination services, ecological health, and pest control. [continue reading…]

Loose joints; safe water; the limits of executive power – 2013 Menzies scholars

Sir Robert Menzies’ legacy continues
Scholarships announced today to young leaders in physiotherapy, engineering, and the law in Sydney and Melbourne.

The treatment of “loose joints”, or hypermobility, a painful inherited condition particularly of adolescent girls; the provision of safe and adequate water resources to communities in Australia and the developing world; and examining the possibilities and limits of executive power—these are just some of the issues being tackled by this year’s crop of Menzies scholars. [continue reading…]

The good, the bad and chronic hepatitis

Today is World Hepatitis Day and it brings good news and bad news.
The bad news is that hepatitis is still a serious condition which affects nearly 400,000 Australians putting them on a course to serious liver disease.

“The good news is that treatment is now less invasive, of shorter duration, much more effective—and diagnosis doesn’t involve humongous needles,” says Dr Nick Shackel from the Centenary Institute.

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