Why plumbers and teachers should have a say on designer babies and genetically enhanced potatoes

Ethical and social implications of powerful DNA-altering technology are too important to be left to scientists and politicians, researchers find.

Illustration by Alice Mollon

Designer babies, mutant mozzies and frankenfoods: these are the images that often spring to mind when people think of genome editing.

The practice – which alters an organism’s DNA in ways that could be inherited by subsequent generations – is both more complex and less dramatic than the popular tropes suggest.

However, its implications are so profound that a growing group of experts believe it is too important a matter to be left only to scientists, doctors and politicians.

Writing in the journal Science, 25 leading researchers from across the globe call for the creation of national and global “citizens’ assemblies”, made up of lay-people, tasked with considering the ethical and social impacts of this emerging science.

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Elements of surprise: neutron stars contribute little, but something’s making gold, research finds

Colliding neutron stars were touted as the main source of some of the heaviest elements in the Periodic Table. Now, not so much

Neutron star collisions do not create the quantity of chemical elements previously assumed, a new analysis of galaxy evolution finds.

The research also reveals that current models can’t explain the amount of gold in the cosmos – creating an astronomical mystery.

The work has produced a new-look Periodic Table, showing the stellar origins of naturally occurring elements from carbon to uranium.

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Hungry galaxies grow fat on the flesh of their neighbours

Modelling shows big galaxies get bigger by merging with smaller ones

Distribution of dark matter density overlayed with the gas density. This image cleanly shows the gas channels connecting the central galaxy with its neighbours. Credit: Gupta et al/ASTRO 3D/ IllustrisTNG collaboration.

Galaxies grow large by eating their smaller neighbours, new research reveals.

Exactly how massive galaxies attain their size is poorly understood, not least because they swell over billions of years. But now a combination of observation and modelling from researchers led by Dr Anshu Gupta from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) has provided a vital clue.

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Windows will soon generate electricity, following solar cell breakthrough

Two square metres of solar window will do the same job as a standard rooftop solar panel, Australian researchers say.

A semi-transparent perovskite solar cell with contrasting levels of light transparency.
Credits: Dr Jae Choul Yu

Semi-transparent solar cells that can be incorporated into window glass are a “game-changer” that could transform architecture, urban planning and electricity generation, Australian scientists say in a paper in Nano Energy.

The researchers – led by Professor Jacek Jasieniak from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science (Exciton Science) and Monash University – have succeeded in producing next-gen perovskite solar cells that generate electricity while allowing light to pass through. They are now investigating how the new technology could be built into commercial products with Viridian Glass, Australia’s largest glass manufacturer.

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Hot qubits made in Sydney break one of the biggest constraints to practical quantum computers

A proof-of-concept published today in Nature promises warmer, cheaper and more robust quantum computing. And it can be manufactured using conventional silicon chip foundries.

Dr Henry Yang and Professor Andrew Dzurak: “hot qubits” are a game-changer for quantum computing development.
Credit: Paul Henderson-Kelly

Most quantum computers being developed around the world will only work at fractions of a degree above absolute zero. That requires multi-million-dollar refrigeration and as soon as you plug them into conventional electronic circuits they’ll instantly overheat.

But now researchers led by Professor Andrew Dzurak at UNSW Sydney have addressed this problem.

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Leaky water pipes found at high speed using AI

Researchers have been able to pick a water leak within 1 percent of its location within seconds.

Artificial intelligence combined with pressure waves has been used to find faults in major water pipelines faster and more cheaply than existing methods.

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Detecting asthma in horses

Using a face mask, Adelaide researchers have a new way to detect a major hidden equine health issue.

Surita du Preez, The University of Adelaide

Up to 80 percent of horses – including racehorses and showjumpers – suffer from a form of asthma that affects their performance and wellbeing.

Researchers led by veterinarian Surita Du Preez from the University of Adelaide are designing a way to detect the condition – which often produces no obvious symptoms – without adding further stress to the affected animals.

“Currently the methods that are available to diagnose the mild to moderate form of horse asthma are invasive,” says Surita.

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Solving a mystery in 126 dimensions

After 90 years, scientists reveal the structure of benzene.

Professor Timothy Schmidt, unravelling the mystery of benzene. Credit Exciton Science

One of the fundamental mysteries of chemistry has been solved by Australian scientists – and the result may have implications for future designs of solar cells, organic light-emitting diodes and other next gen technologies.

Ever since the 1930s debate has raged inside chemistry circles concerning the fundamental structure of benzene. It is a debate that in recent years has taken on added urgency, because benzene – which comprises six carbon atoms matched with six hydrogen atoms – is the smallest molecule that can be used in the production of opto-electronic materials, which are revolutionising renewable energy and telecommunications tech.

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Bendable, safe, long-lasting and green cement-free concrete

A new type of concrete that is made out of waste materials and can bend under load has been developed by researchers from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia.

Behzad Nematollahi, Swinburne University

This material, which incorporates industrial waste products such as fly ash produced by coal-fired power stations, is especially suited for construction in earthquake zones – in which the brittle nature of conventional concrete often leads to disastrous building collapses.

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Ghostly traces of massive ancient river revealed

Photo by Pixabay

Using zircon crystals, researchers have discovered the route of a massive ancient river that could help find new reservoirs of fossil fuels and suggest how modern rivers might change over time.

Sara Morón, The University of Sydney

More than two thirds of the worlds’ major cities are located in coastal deltas. How they change over time can impact communities that live around them.

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