Owl CSI; mass extinction; turning off cancer

Fresh Science, Media bulletins, Media releases

These are the next three stories from Fresh Science 2009.

Owl CSI – feathers and DNA reveal night secrets (Vic)

Dr Fiona Hogan is DNA fingerprinting Australian owls with the help of feathers and a keen public.

Her work is transforming our understanding of the night life of owls, normally notoriously secretive.

From a single feather, this Deakin University researcher can determine the species, sex, and identity of individual birds. She has already found a pair of powerful owls who have mated together for at least 10 consecutive years, and that those breeding in urban areas are typically more closely related than those which breed in the bush.

“Being able to identify individual animals in the wild with DNA has transformed our work. It provides such a wealth of information that it has become the key to conservation,” she says.

Hogan has uncovered a series of ‘genetic markers’ which can provide a DNA fingerprint to identify an individual owl from a single feather.  Full story at www.freshscience.org.au.

One step closer to turning off cancer genes with gene-silencing (Qld)

Researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ) have developed a way to deliver drugs which can specifically shut down cancer-causing genes in tumour cells while sparing normal healthy tissues.

They are currently looking at cervical cancer. While cervical cancer vaccines – co-developed by Professor Ian Frazer at UQ – are reducing the chances of infection with the virus that causes the cancer, many thousands of women worldwide are likely to contract cervical cancer in the next few decades.

Fresh Scientist Ms Sherry Wu hopes the new technique, which involves the use of coatings rich in fats, will hasten the application of RNA interference or gene-silencing, a technology which can inactivate individual genes. Using this technology, she and her colleagues observed a 70% reduction in tumour size in a cervical cancer mouse model. Full story at www.freshscience.org.au.

Ancient eruptions warn of climate change and mass extinctions (WA)

A Curtin University researcher has shown that some ancient periods of massive eruptions released green house gases so quickly that they caused rapid climate change and mass extinctions.

But today we are adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere faster than even the most rapid sequence of eruptions.

“We have carefully dated minerals contained in the volcanic rocks and shown that only the fastest sequences of eruptions caused significant species extinctions,” says Dr Fred Jourdan who works as part of an international team.

“To understand the long-term climatic and biological effects of the massive injections of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere by modern society we have to understand how climate was affected in the past,” he says. Full story at www.freshscience.org.au.

Imaginary friends

This and other stories from Tuesday are at www.freshscience.org.au.

Contact: Sarah Brooker on 0413 332 489 and Niall Byrne on 0417 131 977 or niall@freshscience.org.