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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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Minimising severe injury from blast events on military vehicles

Dale Robinson, The University of Melbourne

Research conducted by former Fresh Science participant Dale Robinson has been covered in the 2020-2021 edition of Defence Science and Technology’s Outlook magazine.

Dr Robinson is a biomedical engineer at the University of Melbourne.

Minimising severe injury from blast events on military vehicles

Blast events inflicted on military vehicles are a consistent threat in contemporary conflicts. Developing equipment that better protects soldiers from this threat has become the focus of significant military research. It is critical to understand how severe injuries are inflicted and how forces from blast events are transmitted to the human body in order to strengthen blast protection for soldiers.

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Cyclones can damage even distant reefs

Research finds current models underestimate the impact of hurricanes and typhoons on coral reef communities

The same area of Scott Reef photographed in 2010, and again in 2012 after Cyclone Lua. Credit: James Gilmour/AIMS

Big and strong cyclones can harm coral reefs as far as 1000 kilometres away from their paths, new research shows.

A study led by Dr Marji Puotinen from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) sounds a warning about the way strong cyclone winds build extreme seas that affect coral reefs in Australia and around the world.

Conventional modelling used to predict how a cyclone, hurricane or typhoon might impact corals assumes that wave damage occurs primarily within 100 kilometres of its track.

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Astronomers see ‘cosmic ring of fire’, 11 billion years ago

Unusual galaxy set to prompt rethink on how structures in the Universe form

Astronomers have captured an image of a super-rare type of galaxy – described as a “cosmic ring of fire” – as it existed 11 billion years ago.

The galaxy, which has roughly the mass of the Milky Way, is circular with a hole in the middle, rather like a titanic doughnut. Its discovery, announced in the journal Nature Astronomy, is set to shake up theories about the earliest formation of galactic structures and how they evolve.

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For knee injuries, surgery may not be the best option

Research finds rehab-only treatment yields better long-term results

Adam Culvenor, La Trobe University

Knee reconstructions may lead to more problems later in life than non-surgical rehabilitation, researchers have found.

A team led by Dr Adam Culvenor from La Trobe University looked at health outcomes for athletes with damaged anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) – a devastating injury, particularly common among footballers.

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3D-printed system speeds up solar cell testing from hours to minutes

Australian scientists flag dramatic improvement to next-gen perovskite R&D

A detail from the new 16-channel parallel characterisation system.
Credit: Adam Surmiak, Xiongfeng Lin

Tests on new designs for next-gen solar cells can now be done in hours instead of days thanks to a new system built by scientists at Australia’s Monash University, incorporating 3D-printed key components.

The machine can analyse 16 sample perovskite-based solar cells simultaneously, in parallel, dramatically speeding up the process.

The invention means that the performance and commercial potential of new compounds can be very rapidly evaluated, significantly speeding up the development process.

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Fish faeces reveals which species eat crown-of-thorns

Great Barrier Reef research finds the destructive starfish is eaten more often than thought.

Dr Frederieke Kroon looking at a crown-of-thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef. Credit: D.Westcott/CSIRO

Crown-of-thorns starfish are on the menu for many more fish species than previously suspected, an investigation using fish poo and gut goo reveals.

The finding suggests that some fish, including popular eating and aquarium species, might have a role to play in keeping the destructive pest population under control.

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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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