Category Archives: 2007

The kangaroo genome – marsupials filling the gap

Analysing the genomes of Australia’s iconic marsupials will provide insight into how they turn off and on the development of the early embryo; give birth to very underdeveloped young, and why marsupial milk changes radically over the months of lactation.

This knowledge could lead scientists to new treatments for premature births, better milk production in cows, as well as novel antibiotics. Marsupials fill an evolutionary gap between the distantly related birds/reptiles and the more closely related placental mammals (such as humans and cows).

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Australia’s new reactor opens

The OPAL reactor and new neutron beam facility, managed by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in Sydney’s south, officially opens on Wednesday 18 April 2007.

Costing $400 million to build, the reactor was described by ANSTO’s Executive Director, Dr. Ian Smith as “the jewel in the crown” of Australian nuclear research.

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Ocean acidification threatens marine ecosystems

Ocean acidification, caused by increasing amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolving in the ocean, poses a serious threat to marine ecosystems.

Increasing acidity affects the ability of some planktonic organisms to form shells, and is expected to change the species composition of plankton, with flow-on effects to higher levels of the food web.

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Master switch turns plant sex life on and off

University of Melbourne researchers have isolated a genetic ‘switch’ that can be turned on or off to alter the development of sex cells in plants.

The discovery brings understanding of fertilisation in plants to a new level, and is an important step towards growing greater amounts of food through increased fertilisation of crop plants. Professors Mohan Singh and Prem Bhalla, who head the University’s Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Laboratory in the Faculty of Land and Food Resources, analysed the genetic makeup of white lilies and other flowering plants to identify a germline-restrictive silencing factor (GRSF).

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Venom from the sea cures human pain

The University of Melbourne’s Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Pharmacology have over recent years identified cone shell venom as a potential treatment for chronic pain in humans.

Researchers continue to develop the research into a commercialised product. One of the venom peptides identified is currently in phase two of clinical trials.

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Shattering the crystal lattice

Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA is arguably the greatest of the 20th century. The significance lies in its profound influence on our understanding of the nature of life and in its striking demonstration of the power of two disciplines – physics and biology – collaborating to solve a major problem.

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VESKI’s innovative fellowships deliver results

VESKI’s main initiative – to return successful Australian expatriates with outstanding skills in science, technology and design – is paying off with some inspiring work.

In 2004, VESKI’s – Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge and Innovation – inaugural Fellow Professor Andrew Holmes returned from Cambridge University to work in a new $100 million Bio21 Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Institute. One of the most important research areas to emerge since has been the development of cheap plastic solar cells.

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Animals contribute to greenhouse gases

Smoke-belching coal-fired power stations and factories and fossil fuel-guzzling motor vehicles may be seen as the big villains of the global climate change debate, but they aren’t the only ones contributing to the greenhouse effect.

Australia’s hundreds of millions of cattle, sheep, pigs and other agricultural animals – not to mention our native fauna – also release significant amounts of methane and other gases into the atmosphere.

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