Saving seagrass sanctuaries

Seagrass meadows provide food and habitat for everything from dugongs and birds to fish and tiny crabs.

Using maths to protect seagrass meadows and the communities they support .
Using maths to protect seagrass meadows and the communities they support .

Globally we’re losing over 100 sq. km per year due to dredging, coastal developments and runoff. That’s bad news for the animals they support, and bad news for us too, as seagrass supports healthy coastal fisheries as well as acting as a carbon store.

To see how seagrass can be given a fighting chance, Dr Paul Wu at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers and collaborators have put an extended modelling technique to new use, predicting seagrass health and suggests how some modified human activities could reduce the damage.

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Can algae fuel our future?

We can make biofuels with algae, but can we make them commercially viable?

A University of Queensland (UQ) research team is working towards it – and Siemens, Neste Oil Corp, the Queensland Government and others have joined their quest.

The Solar Biofuels Research Centre is one of the most advanced national facilities investigating the development and use of high-efficiency microalgae production platforms.

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The ageing brain can repair itself

Professor Perry Bartlett is putting people with dementia on treadmills.

Mapping the vast networks of the brain; 10,000 million neurons, each with 10,000 connections. Credit: Queensland Brain Institute
Mapping the vast networks of the brain; 10,000 million neurons, each with 10,000 connections. Credit: Queensland Brain Institute

He has already reversed dementia and recovered spatial memories in mice through exercise. And in 2016 he and colleagues at The University of Queensland will begin clinical trials to see if exercise will have the same impact in people with dementia. Then he’ll look at depression.

Underpinning these projects is the idea that the brain is constantly changing; and that learning, memory, mood, and many other brain functions are in part regulated by the production of new neurons.

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Deadly animals helping us understand pain

Toxins from snakes, spiders, jellyfish and scorpions are helping scientists to better understand how pain works, with the hope of managing chronic pain more effectively.

The blue coral snake is just one of the species helping scientists to better understand pain. Credit: Lou Boyer.
The blue coral snake is just one of the species helping scientists to better understand pain.
Credit: Lou Boyer.

Pain comes in many forms, requiring different treatments and often making it difficult to manage. Many painkillers have negative side effects including addiction, and for some the painkillers don’t even work.

“Many drugs achieve around 50 per cent pain relief in only one-third of patients. That’s not good enough,” says Dr Irina Vetter, Deputy Director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s Centre for Pain Research at The University of Queensland.

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Smartphone testing for Zika virus

Prototypes of a portable test for Zika virus and a range of other diseases, using just a microchip plugged into a smartphone, may be available by the end of 2016.

Patients will soon be able to test themselves for diseases like Zika virus or breast cancer from the comfort of their own home. Credit: Siro Perez, Molecular Warehouse Ltd.
Patients will soon be able to test themselves for diseases like Zika virus or breast cancer from the comfort of their own home.
Credit: Siro Perez, Molecular Warehouse Ltd.

Zika – a rapidly-spreading, mosquito-borne disease – doesn’t always show symptoms and currently has no treatment or vaccine.

The new test could be performed from the comfort of the patient’s own home according to Professor Kirill Alexandrov from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) at The University of Queensland.

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Tracking fish with parasites and maths

How much fish move around is critical information for fisheries managers—for example they need to know if fish caught off Brisbane are a separate population to those caught off Cairns. Different tracking techniques, such as physical tags or genetic mapping, can be used but each method has its weaknesses.

A team of mathematicians is using pre-existing data on Spanish mackerel, using their hitchhiking parasites to track fish movements and model the populations.

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Maths to answer big questions (it’s not always 42)

Many of today’s big questions can only be answered with new mathematical and statistical tools.

That’s what the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers are working on, and they’re finding real-world applications in areas as diverse as:

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Improved primary science teaching at no extra cost

Two science teachers from New South Wales and Queensland are using fresh approaches to get kids interested in science – and keep them interested.

Ken Silburn (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
Casula High School has gone from just eight students taking science to two-thirds of Year 11 and 12 students. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

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Kimberley corals are true Aussie battlers

Zoe collecting samples for further molecular analysis. Photo WA Museum
Zoe colleacting samples for further molecular analysis. Photo WA Museum

While coral reefs around the world are feeling the heat, little-known reefs in Australia’s Kimberley region are prospering, despite living in some of the toughest conditions—and scientists aren’t yet sure why.

The discovery has particular significance this summer with fears of a severe coral bleaching event to hit our northern waters—the result of steadily rising sea temperatures and a strong seasonal El Niño.

WA researchers have found that while coral reefs all around the world are feeling the heat of rising temperatures, some inshore reefs in the Kimberley region’s Bonaparte Archipelago are prospering, despite living in some of the toughest conditions. Continue reading Kimberley corals are true Aussie battlers

Exploring the mystery of the oceans

Australia and Japan are both island nations with vast maritime reserves and responsibilities. Together we’re developing the science needed to understand, use, enjoy and protect our unique marine ecosystems. And we’re collaborating to solve some of the mysteries of the ocean systems that drive the world’s climate.

Attack of the giant starfish

The waters off Japan’s tropical Okinawa Islands are home to hundreds of species of coral. The reefs attract a rich diversity of life: fish, turtles, whale sharks, and… the crown-of-thorns starfish.

Five thousand kilometres to the south is the Great Barrier Reef—the world’s largest reef system and one of the richest and most diverse natural ecosystems on Earth. The Australian Government is committed to protecting the Reef and has developed a plan to 2050 to ensure the sustainability of the Reef. But the Reef has lost half its coral cover in the past 30 years and periodic plagues of crown-of-thorns are responsible for more than forty per cent of the coral loss. Continue reading Exploring the mystery of the oceans