Oz research of note, 18 December, 2011

A new test for tracking the spread of breast cancer; Canberra astronomers may have calculated a sweet spot for Martian life; and a microscope that can watch living cells being infected are just some of the interesting stories that emerged from Australian research published in the last week. Find over a dozen other stories below.

Hundreds of threatened species not on official US list

Many of the animal species at risk of extinction in the United States have not made it onto that country’s official Endangered Species Act (ESA) list, according researchers in Adelaide. Their study compared the ESA list of endangered species with the world’s leading threatened species list, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. They found that of the American species included on the IUCN list, 40% of birds, 50% of mammals, and 80-95% of other species such as amphibians, gastropods, crustaceans, and insects, were not recognised by the ESA as threatened.

Bert Harris, Environment Institute and School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide

Conservation Letters; http://www.adelaide.edu.au/news/news50121.html

Super-resolution microscope technology unveiled in Sydney

The University of Technology, Sydney has unveiled the world’s first super-resolution imaging system showing real time footage of living cells interacting with infectious diseases. The new video coverage, which shows how the human body deals with invading germs, will help researchers better understand how to tackle some of the world’s worst diseases.

Prof Ian Charles, Microbial Imaging Facility, i3 Institute, UTS http://newsroom.uts.edu.au/news/2011/12/researchers-in-sydney-blaze-ahead-with-world-leading-microscope-technology

Water on Mars: Maybe Martian microbes

Canberra astronomers have found that extensive regions of the sub-surface of Mars could contain water and be at comfortable temperatures for terrestrial – and potentially Martian – microbes. The researchers modelled Mars to evaluate its potential for harbouring inhabitable water. They found more than they were expecting. “Our models tell us that if there is water present in the Martian sub-surface then it could be habitable – as an extensive region of the subsurface is at temperatures and pressures comfortable for terrestrial life.”

Eriita Jones, Dr Charley Lineweaver, Planetary Science Institute, ANU

Astrobiology Journal; http://news.anu.edu.au/?p=12911

New test to indicate likely spread or recurrence of breast cancer

A Brisbane PhD student has developed a test for predicting the likelihood of the spread or return of breast cancer. Her research found that a breast cancer’s interaction with its surrounding environment held the key to predicting whether it would grow, become dormant or spread to other organs. The new test will use the tissue surrounding cancer cells, which is collected for biopsy purposes, but is currently not examined.

Helen McCosker, Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, QUT


Pregnant women advised to stay cool for baby’s sake

Brisbane researchers have found a link between increases in temperature, shorter pregnancies, and the incidence of stillbirth. The study looked at the incidence of still and premature births in Brisbane over a four-year period from 2005. “We found that increases in temperature increased the risk of stillbirth, and this was particularly true in the earlier stages of pregnancy before 28 weeks. Our estimated numbers were at 15°C there would be 353 stillbirths per 100,000 pregnancies, as compared with 610 stillbirths per 100,000 pregnancies at 23°C.”

A/Prof Adrian Barnett , Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, QUT

American Journal of Epidemiology; http://www.news.qut.edu.au/cgi-bin/WebObjects/News.woa/wa/goNewsPage?newsEventID=38031

Athletes warming up wrongly

Static stretching warm ups are being overused by athletes even though they can be counter-productive, according to a Melbourne study. Too many athletes were using static stretching such as calf, quad and hip flex stretches just before competing even though it has been shown to reduce power, according to the researchers. “It’s an epidemic: I see it at almost every AFL club, tennis match or international soccer event where athletes are stretching on the sidelines just prior to playing. People just aren’t getting the message.” The research shows static stretching decreased jumping performance by almost 8 per cent, while a more dynamic warm-up increased participants’ vertical jump by 3 per cent.

James Zois, School of Sport & Exercise Science, Victoria University


Rapid pesticide detection tool for cleaner water

A rapid screening tool developed by a Melbourne doctoral researcher could enable the instant detection of pesticide residues in Australia’s water catchments. He investigated the development of a portable instrument for detecting the presence of commonly used pesticides in water using chemiluminescence – a highly-sensitive technique that allows the detection of minute quantities of an organic compound in bulk waters.

Dr David Beale, School of Applied Sciences, RMIT University and CSIRO


Bedrock map reveals ice-free Antarctica

The soaring mountain peaks and deep valleys hidden beneath Antarctica’s ice sheet have been revealed in a new map produced using decades of survey data acquired by planes, satellites, ships and dog-drawn sleds. Called BEDMAP2, the close-up view of Antarctica without its ice, is a comprehensive digital map of the bedrock, produced using more than 27 million points of data collected by a range of international partners.

Dr Roland Warner, Australian Antarctic Division


Male cancer patients turn to alternative treatments

The majority of men diagnosed with cancer in Australia are turning to complementary and alternative medicine to help find a cure, or to improve their health, according to new Adelaide research. A psychology PhD student who analysed a questionnaire of 400 men with various types of cancer shows that many of them modify their diet in conjunction with conventional treatment, as well as turning to meditation, yoga and exercise.

Nadja Klafke, University of Adelaide

Annals of Oncology; http://www.adelaide.edu.au/news/news50141.html

Pilbara mistletoe faces sub-regional extinction

A new study suggests long-term modern fire regimes could pose a threat to WA mistletoes (Loranthaceae sp). Fires ignited by lightning, arson or by prescribed burning often destroy thousands of hectares in the Pilbara region. This scale of damage poses a problem for mistletoe species because of their physical vulnerability and regeneration methods. Across species, mistletoe foliage and fresh seed are killed when scorched. Mistletoe varieties comprise a key component of Pilbara biodiversity, with many insects dependant on them for larval food, including butterfly genera Ogyris (Lycenidae) and Delias (Pieridae). Mistletoes also support the highly adapted mistletoebird (Dicaeum hiundinaceum) as well as spiny-cheeked and grey honeyeaters, important pollinators within the region.

Dr A.N. Start, WA Department of Environment and Conservation