Oz research of note, 9 January, 2012

Oz Research of Note

A friendly sugar to fight diabetes; wires just four atoms wide; and debunking the “famous and dead at 27” curse are just some of the interesting stories that emerged from Australian research published in the last week. Find other stories below.

New sugar a treat for diabetes treatment

Canberra-based medical researchers have discovered a potential new treatment for Type-1 diabetes – an autoimmune disease which currently affects some 130,000 Australians. They have identified a previously unknown process which causes destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The researchers found that the insulin-producing cells need a complex sugar, heparan sulphate, for their survival.

Dr Charmaine Simeonovic and Prof Christopher Parish, The John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU

The Journal of Clinical Investigation; http://news.anu.edu.au/?p=13221

Wires shrink to atomic scale

Sydney researcher have developed the narrowest conducting wires in silicon ever made – just four atoms wide and one atom tall – and shown them to have the same electrical current carrying capability of copper.Despite their astonishingly tiny diameter – 10,000 times thinner than a human hair – these wires have exceptionally good electrical properties, raising hopes they will serve to connect atomic-scale components in the quantum computers of tomorrow.The wires were made by precisely placing chains of phosphorus atoms within a silicon crystal, according to the study, which includes researchers from the University of Melbourne and Purdue University in the US.

Bent Weber, Prof Michelle Simmons; ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, University of New South Wales.

Science; http://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-technology/wires-shrink-atomic-scale

Research shows cells influence their own destiny

In a major shake-up of scientists’ understanding of what determines the fate of cells, Melbourne-based medical researchers have shown that cells have some control over their own destiny. The researchers drew their conclusion after studying B cells, immune system cells that can make antibodies.

Prof Phil Hodgkin, Dr Mark Dowling, Dr Cameron Wellard, Ms Jie Zhou, Immunology Division, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Science; http://bit.ly/yrYDqx

Enzyme structure opens the door to HIV and Hepatitis C treatment

Scientists have determined the structure of the enzyme endomannosidase, significantly advancing understanding of how a group of devastating human viruses including HIV and Hepatitis C hijack human enzymes to reproduce and cause disease. The findings open the door to the development of new drugs to combat these deadly viruses that infect more than 180 million people worldwide. The team of international scientists studied bacterial endomannosidase as a model for the same human enzyme and successfully determined the three dimensional structure of the enzyme using state of the art synchrotron technology. Knowing the structure of the enzyme reveals details on how viruses hijack human enzymes and use them to replicate and cause infection.

A/Prof Spencer Williams, Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; http://newsroom.melbourne.edu/news/n-731

Fame, not being 27 years old, is more likely to kill rock stars

The list of well-known musicians who have died at age 27 may look like more than a coincidence – Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Brian Jones to name a few – but their age is unlikely to have been the cause of their demise, according to research led by a Brisbane health statistician. The results showed that while fame may increase the risk of death for musicians, probably due to their rock and roll lifestyle, this risk was not limited to age 27.

A/Prof Adrian Barnett, Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology

British Medical Journal; http://www.qut.edu.au/about/news/news?news-id=38088

Exercise cuts bowel cancer risk

West Australian researchers have found people who engage in vigorous physical activity may be protected against types of colorectal cancer. The study used a Western Australian cohort. Researchers examined 870 participants who had bowel cancer and a control group of 996 who did not have the disease. Study participants were asked to answer questions about their recreational physical activity, lifestyle, diet, medication and occupation.

Terry Boyle, University of Western Australia

Cancer Causes Control; http://www.sciencewa.net.au/3813.html

Sleep disorders affecting police officers

More than 40 per cent of police officers screened positive for a sleep disorder, contributing to outcomes such as falling asleep while driving, uncontrolled anger towards suspects and health problems. The research was a two-year follow-up to a study of nearly 5000 police officers in the United States. Sleep disorders including obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), insomnia and shift work disorder were detected, with most being undiagnosed and untreated at the time. OSA was estimated to affect 33 per cent of the police officers screened. Moderate to severe insomnia affected 6.5 per cent, and 28.5 per cent of police officers showed excessive sleepiness.

A/Prof Shantha Rajaratnam, Monash University

Journal of the American Medical Association; http://www.monash.edu.au/news/show/sleep-disorders-affecting-police-officers

Discovery of hybrid sharks off Australia’s east coast

Marine scientists has discovered that sharks on Australia’s east coast display a mysterious tendency to interbreed, challenging several accepted scientific theories regarding shark behaviour. The scientists found widespread hybridisation in the wild between two commonly caught shark species. The Australian black tip shark (Carcharhinus tilstoni) and the common black tip shark (C. limbatus) have overlapping distributions along the northern and eastern Australian coastline. Using both genetic testing and body measurements, 57 hybrid animals were identified from five locations, spanning 2000km from northern NSW to far northern Queensland. Although closely related, the two species grow to different maximum sizes and are genetically distinct. This is the first discovery of sharks hybridising and suggests that other closely related shark and ray species around the world may be doing the same thing.

Dr Jennifer Ovenden, University of Queensland; Dr Colin Simpfendorfer, Fishing and Fisheries Research Centre, James Cook University


Cracked eggs reveal secret life

WA researchers have developed a technique that uses eggshells from endangered and extinct birds as a molecular resource—revealing insights into the behaviour and evolutionary history of Australian feathered fauna. Eggshell has been largely overlooked as a substrate despite its impermeability and resistance to decay, owing largely to the calcium carbonate matrix which acts to protect biomolecules. Researchers take the eggs of extinct and endangered birds and grind them down before sequencing the DNA to learn new information about birds.

Dr James Haile, Murdoch University


Scientists find genes to tackle climate change in outback rice

Queensland scientists have discovered that an ancient relative of rice contains genes that could potentially save food crops from the devastating effects of global warming. Wild rice plants in hotter and drier parts of Australia tend to be more genetically diverse, they found. The genetic diversity found by the scientists is seen as a bulwark against climate change because some genes offer plants a degree of resistance to bacterial and fungal pathogens, both of which are known to attack plants under stress.

Prof Robert Henry, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, University of Queensland

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; http://www.uq.edu.au/news/index.html?article=24218

Global study links climate to severe habitat loss

Australian researchers have measured the relationship between current climate, climate change and habitat loss on plants and animals on a global scale. Their results indicate that areas with high temperatures and where average rainfall has decreased over time increase the chance of a species being negatively affected by habitat loss and fragmentation.

Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle, Dr Jonathan Rhodes, University of Queensland & Dr Tara Martin, CSIRO

Global Change Biology; http://www.uq.edu.au/news/index.html?article=24242