Oz research of note, 27 November, 2011

Oz Research of Note

Tools once used just to diagnose human diseases are being used to save coral reefs; depression patients will be able to monitor their mental health using a computer and a bodybuilder’s health supplement could be the key to treating a life-threatening muscular dystrophy affecting hundreds of Australian children.

These are just some of the interesting stories that emerged from Australian research published in the last week.  Find over a dozen other stories below.

Scientific sleuths pinpoint the guilty coral killers

The elusive culprits that are killing countless coral reefs around the world can now be nabbed with technology normally used to diagnose human diseases, marine researchers say. Coral researchers and reef managers will be able to identify coral infections using a new method that allows them to classify specific diseases based on the presence of microbes. This could lead to more effective action to reduce the impact of disease on the world’s imperilled coral reefs.

Mr Joseph Pollock, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, James Cook University

PLoS Pathogens; http://www.aims.gov.au/docs/media/media-releases-2011/-/asset_publisher/8Kfw/content/23-november-2011-scientific-sleuths-pinpoint-the-guilty-coral-killers

Canberra researchers develop technology to diagnose depression

Patients with depression will be able to monitor their mental health using a computer as easily as those with diabetes can manage their condition thanks to new research presented in Canberra. The work is developing a computerised diagnostic aid that is already able to diagnose depression with up to 80 percent accuracy. The researchers’ next step is to develop a laptop based prototype.

Dr Roland Goecke, Human-Centred Computing Laboratory, University of Canberra—also researchers from Queensland Institute of Medical Research and Black Dog Institute, UNSW


Gone fishing? We have for 42,000 years

An Australian archaeologist has uncovered the world’s oldest evidence of deep sea fishing for big fish, showing that 42,000 years ago our regional ancestors had mastered one of our nation’s favourite pastimes. The study also found the world’s earliest recorded fish hook in her excavations at a site in East Timor. The finds from the Jerimalai cave site demonstrate that 42,000 years ago our regional ancestors had high-level maritime skills, and by implication the technology needed to make the ocean crossings to reach Australia.

Prof Sue O’Connor, College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU

Science; http://news.anu.edu.au/?p=12531

New insight into climate change in the Pacific

New research providing critical information about how climate change is affecting Australia’s Pacific island neighbours and East Timor has been released today by the Australian Government’s Pacific Climate Change Science Program (PCCSP). The landmark, peer-reviewed publication, Climate Change in the Pacific: Scientific Assessment and New Research, presents the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date of climate change in the Pacific region.

Dr Scott Power, Bureau of Meteorology; Kevin Hennessy, CSIRO


Jumping fish to save the salmon industry millions of dollars

Scientists have shown for the first time that salmon can be artificially stimulated to leap through water, opening the door to effective sea lice treatment, an infection that costs the global industry more than $500 million each year.

Dr Tim Dempster, University of Melbourne

Journal of Animal Science; http://jas.fass.org/content/89/12/4281.abstract?sid=9fc7f587-4264-4e0c-873a-a71988419342

Chemical weapon in spider silk repels ant attack

Researchers have shown for the first time how Golden orb web spiders (Nephila antipodiana) add a chemical to their web silk to repel invading ants. The finding adds chemical defence to the impressive properties of spider silk, already known to be very strong, elastic and adhesive, and may provide new opportunities for pesticide design.

Prof Mark Elgar, Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne

Proceedings of the Royal Society B; http://newsroom.melbourne.edu/news/n-697

Sex explains why the fit don’t always survive

An international study has shown how genetic variation can persist through generations, rather than being bred out in an evolution towards a ‘perfect type’. The research team observed that males which carried the genes for behavioural dominance were more successful at winning mates. However, their gene-sharing female siblings were less successful, having smaller litter sizes. In contrast, females which didn’t carry the genes for behavioural dominance had larger litter sizes. This phenomenon is called sexual antagonism – where a particular gene is beneficial for one sex, but decreases success for the opposite sex.

Mr Jussi Lehtonen, Research School of Biology, ANU

Science; http://news.anu.edu.au/?p=12331

Multiple mates good for both sexes

An Australian experimental evolutionary study on house mice (Mus musculus) has found multiple mating is beneficial for both males and females. The study, in its sixth year running, has found that polyandry drives increased embryo viability in a vertebrate and that the risks associated with multiple mating were far outweighed by the benefits.

Dr Renee Firman, Dr Leigh Simmons, UWA

Ecology Letters Journal; http://www.sciencewa.net.au/3742-polyandry-drives-increased-embryo-viability.html

How crabs avoid getting eaten

Despite their simple compound eyes crabs have evolved a smart way to tell the difference between friend and foe, a new study has revealed. Australian researcher found that fiddler crabs quickly learn to recognise if an approaching creature is a threat, a mate or a harmless passer-by – according to its direction of approach.

Ms Chloe Raderschall, ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science, ANU

The Journal of Experimental Biology; http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20112411-22880.html

Breakthrough in malaria research looks to body’s immune cells

Recently published Queensland research showing how the malaria parasite can survive in a type of white blood cell in the spleen looks set to pave the way for the development of new malaria drugs and vaccines. Traditionally, it was believed the parasite’s development in the body was restricted to the liver and red blood cells.

Dr Michelle Wykes, Queensland Institute of Medical Research

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; http://www.qimr.edu.au/page/News__Events/Media_Centre/Media_Releases/Archive/2011/Breakthrough_in_malaria_research_looks_to_bodys_immune_cells/

Safety issues in stem cell therapy

An international study in the prestigious journal Nature Biotechnology reveals new information about human pluripotent stem cells and their genetic stability and has important implications for the development of therapies using these cells. Scientists from the University of Melbourne, University of NSW and CSIRO contributed to this study, which examined how the genome of 138 stem cell lines of diverse ethnic backgrounds changed when the cells were grown in the laboratory.

Prof Martin Pera, University of Melbourne and Stem Cells Australia; Dr Andrew Laslett, Qi Zhou, CSIRO; A/Prof Jeremy Crook, Shirani Sivarajah, University of Melbourne and National ICT Australia; A/Prof Kuldip Sidhu, UNSW

Nature Biotechnology; http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nbt.2051.html

Adolescent boys more prone to delinquency without a father

Adolescent boys are more prone to delinquency if they do not have a father figure in their lives, a Melbourne study has found, while adolescent girls seem unaffected by the presence or absence of fathers in their lives. The study found that the presence of a father figure during adolescence was most likely to have a preventive effect on whether male youths engage in risk-taking and deviant behaviour. While active involvement and interaction between fathers and youths was found to be beneficial, it did not explain the positive benefits of children who grow up with fathers in the household.

Prof Deborah Cobb-Clark, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne


Hope for muscle wasting disease

A health supplement used by bodybuilders could be the key to treating a life-threatening muscular dystrophy affecting hundreds of Australian children, new research shows. The amino acid L-tyrosine had a “rapid and dramatic impact” on Nemaline Myopathy (NM) in laboratory tests on mice, significantly improving symptoms of the muscle wasting disease, medical researchers found.

Prof Edna Hardeman, Neuromuscular and Regenerative Medicine Unit, UNSW

Brain; http://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/health/hope-muscle-wasting-disease

Plasmonics lab opens up nano-toolbox

Australian researchers have shown that embedding gold nanoparticles within organic solar cells can increase their efficiency. Using plasmonics—waves of electrons, created when light hits the surface of a metal under precise circumstances—improvements in light capturing are sought at wavelengths where gold particles reflect and scatter light most efficiently.

Prof Saulius Juodkazis, Swinburne Institute of Technology

Optical Materials Express, http://www.swinburne.edu.au/chancellery/mediacentre/media-centre/news/2011/11/plasmonics-lab-opens-up-nano-toolbox

Global warming dominates regional effects of land-use change

Changes in snow and rain caused by global warming dominate the effects of land-use change on regional climates, according to a new international study led by Australians. The study found that land-use and land-cover changes tend to act as regional cooling mechanisms at mid to high latitudes but amplify warming in tropical regions.

Prof Andy Pitman, ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, UNSW

Nature Climate Science; http://www.science.unsw.edu.au/news/global-warming-dominates-regional-effects-of-land-use-change/

Oxygen ‘2.48 billion years old’

Banded ironstone core samples from the Pilbara have aided in dating the first appearance of atmospheric oxygen at 2.48 billion years ago. The published date of the Great Oxidation Event by geobiologists in Western Australian researchers rests on the reliability of the rock samples they used as evidence.
A/Prof Mark Barley, UWA

Nature; http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20112411-22882.html

Exploring water in the deep Earth

An international study led by an Australian provides new insight into the water cycle of the deep Earth, volcanic activity in the Pacific and the potential catastrophic effects when these two combine.

ARC Professorial Fellow Prof Simon Turner, Macquarie University

Nature Geoscience; http://www.mq.edu.au/newsroom/control.php?page=story&item=4753&category=health+%26amp%3B+medicine

Earth’s past gives clues to future changes

Scientists are a step closer to predicting when and where earthquakes will occur after taking a fresh look at the formation of the Andes, which began 45 million years ago. International research led by an Australian describes a new approach to plate tectonics. It is the first model to go beyond illustrating how plates move, and explain why. Although the theory had been applied only to one plate boundary so far, it has broader application, the researchers say. Understanding the forces driving tectonic plates will allow researchers to predict shifts and their consequences, including the formation of mountain ranges, opening and closing of oceans, and earthquakes.

Dr Fabio Capitanio, School of Geosciences, Monash University

Nature; http://www.monash.edu.au/news/show/earths-past-gives-clues-to-future-changes