Tag Archives: biology

The mathematics of conservation

The Earth is losing species and ecosystems fast, but figuring out the best response is not easy when information, time and money are scarce.

Dr Eve McDonald Madden helps saves species—with maths. Credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au
Dr Eve McDonald Madden helps saves species—with maths. Credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au

Dr Eve McDonald-Madden is using maths to help governments and others make tough decisions on how best to use limited resources to preserve ecosystems under threat.

The young Australian scientist helps to save species, not by going out into the field, but by analysing the data other people have collected on endangered species. Continue reading The mathematics of conservation

Frog peptides versus superbugs

Neutrons and native frogs are an unlikely but dynamic duo in the battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, commonly known as superbugs, recent research has shown.

The growling grass frog’s skin secretions include disease fighting peptides. Credit: Craig Cleeland

The skin secretions of the Australian green-eyed and growling grass frogs contain peptides (small proteins) that help frogs fight infection. Researchers hope these peptides will offer a new line of defence against a range of human bacterial pathogens, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Continue reading Frog peptides versus superbugs

Bionic pioneer explores how we’re wired for sound

Prof Graeme Clark changed the way we thought about hearing when he gave Rod Saunders the first cochlear implant in 1978—now he might just do it again.

3-D reconstruction of the left implanted cochlea in the brain of Rod Saunders. Credit: G. Clark; J.C.M. Clark.; M. Clarke; P. Nielsen- NICTA & Dept Otolaryngology, Melbourne University

Back then, Graeme brought together a team of engineers and medical personnel; now he’s trying to reveal exactly how the brain is wired for sound—by bringing together software specialists and experts on materials that can interface with the brain.

“We’re aiming to get closer to ‘high fidelity’ hearing for those with a cochlear implant,” says Graeme, now distinguished researcher at NICTA and laureate professor emeritus at the University of Melbourne. “This would mean they could enjoy the subtlety of music or the quiet hum of a dinner party.”

Continue reading Bionic pioneer explores how we’re wired for sound

Starving cancer and other stories

Prostate cancers are made up of hungry, growing cells. Now we’ve discovered how to cut off their food supply thanks to a study published in Cancer Research and supported by Movember. More below. Also Australian science discoveries you may have missed from the past week. Heart cells growing in a test-tube – Melbourne How birds [...]

Pain relief from the sea

For the one in five Australians of working age suffering from serious chronic pain, the options for relief are strictly limited. There’s morphine and . . . well, there’s morphine. But now one of the most powerful toxins in the natural world—the venom of marine cone snails—offers hope of a future free of pain and addiction, say researchers at RMIT University.

PHOTO: CONE SNAILS MAY OFFER PAIN RELIEF. CREDIT: ISLAND EFFECTS
PHOTO: CONE SNAILS MAY OFFER PAIN RELIEF. CREDIT: ISLAND EFFECTS

“The big problems with morphine are addictiveness and the fact that people develop a tolerance to it,” says Professor David Adams, director of the RMIT Health Innovations Research Institute. “With the painkillers derived from cone snail venom, we don’t have those problems. People don’t develop tolerance, and they don’t get hooked.

Continue reading Pain relief from the sea

Rapid identity check for border security pests

When Australian biosecurity officers find a suspicious insect or other invasive pest, they can now quickly identify it, drawing upon experts around the world using microscopes linked via the internet.

The Remote Microscope Network will allow experts to ‘look over the shoulder’ of biosecurity officers and help them identity pests. Credit: CRCNPB
The Remote Microscope Network will allow experts to ‘look over the shoulder’ of biosecurity officers and help them identity pests. Credit: CRCNPB

The Remote Microscope Network (RMN), developed by the Cooperative Research Centre for National Plant Biosecurity (CRCNPB), allows the officers to examine an insect or specimen closely in real time, manipulating it under the microscope while discussing its identification with national and international experts.

The system is coupled to a comprehensive diagnostic information database, allowing comparison with images and information about the suspect.

Until now identification in the field of invasive insects and other pests has been a slow and cumbersome process. It often involved sending a sample to a capital city and waiting several weeks for results.

The RMN is used in conjunction with a Pest and Disease Image Library and a Plant Biosecurity Toolbox, which includes high quality images as well as information about pest distribution. Together they enable field officers to identify pests quickly and accurately, and respond to any threats. This could save millions of dollars in eradication costs and lost market access for Australian producers.

“We’ve added a new, innovative tool to our system which is very cost effective and efficient, and decreases the response time when dealing with potentially harmful pests and diseases,” says Dr Simon McKirdy, CEO of the CRCNPB. “Now relevant diagnostic information is available to field officers around Australia and to our near neighbours.”

Photo: The Remote Microscope Network will allow experts to ‘look over the shoulder’ of biosecurity officers and help them identity pests.
Credit: CRCNPB

CRC for National Plant Biosecurity, Max Knobel, m.knobel@crcplantbiosecurity.com.au, www.crcplantbiosecurity.com.au/

Milk could soothe the savage gum

Melbourne dental health researchers have discovered a painless, low-cost treatment which may prevent gum disease.

Milk could soothe the savage gum
A peptide found in milk may help prevent gum disease and protect teeth. Credit: Istock photos
And the key ingredients—protein fragments known as peptides—come from cows’ milk.

The link between the peptides and gum disease was forged at the Melbourne Dental School node of the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre by Dr Elena Toh. “This could provide a cheap and simple way to help prevent gum disease,” she says. “And because the peptides are derived from milk, there should be no toxicity issues.”
Continue reading Milk could soothe the savage gum

Parasites betrayed by their genome

Photo: The barber’s pole worm causes deaths and massive production losses in the sheep industry. Credit:IstockphotoMelbourne veterinary researchers are using genomic techniques and bioinformatics to lead them to new specific candidate drugs for the treatment of a devastating parasite known as barber’s pole worm, which causes anaemia, deaths and massive production losses in the sheep industry.

Using the latest gene sequencing technology and the supercomputers of the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative, Prof Robin Gasser’s research group from the University of Melbourne’s Veterinary School have been able to compare barber’s pole worm’s DNA and RNA with that of other organisms in order to track down genes essential to the worm’s growth, development, reproduction and survival. Continue reading Parasites betrayed by their genome

How a molecular assassin operates

The secrets of a molecular assassin could lead to more effective treatments for cancer and viral diseases, better therapy for autoimmune conditions, and a deeper understanding of the body’s defences enabling the development of more tightly focused immunosuppressive drugs.

How a molecular assassin operates
In this simulation, the perforin molecule (blue) punches a hole through the cell membrane (beige) providing access for toxic enzymes (red). Credit: Mike Kuiper
These are just some of the wide-ranging possibilities arising from research which has revealed the structure and function of the protein perforin, a front-line weapon in the body’s fight against rogue cells.

A pivotal role was played by 2006 Science Minister’s Life Scientist of the Year, molecular biologist Prof James Whisstock and his research team at Monash University. It was research fellow Dr Ruby Law who finally worked out how to grow crystals of perforin. And the team was then able to collaborate with Dr Tom Caradoc-Davies of the micro-crystallography beamline at the nearby Australian Synchrotron to reveal its complete molecular structure.
Continue reading How a molecular assassin operates

Virtual management of the world’s oceans

New computer models are challenging the conventional wisdom in marine science.

Virtual management of the world’s oceans
Beth Fulton’s fisheries models are used all over the world. Credit: Istockphoto
These models have revealed for example that: large populations of jellyfish and squid indicate a marine ecosystem in trouble; not all fish populations increase when fishing is reduced—some species actually decline; and, sharks and tuna can use jellyfish as junk food to see them through lean periods.

The models were developed by the 2007 Science Minister’s Life Scientist of the Year, Dr Beth Fulton, a senior research scientist at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research in Hobart.
Continue reading Virtual management of the world’s oceans