Mopping up gases

Deanna D’Alessandro

University of Sydney

A sponge that filters hot air and captures carbon dioxide

Deanna D’Alessandro, The University of Sydney (credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au)
Deanna D’Alessandro, The University of Sydney (credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au)

We need better ways of capturing carbon dioxide emissions from power stations and industry. And we won’t be using hydrogen cars until we’ve developed practical ways of carrying enough hydrogen gas in the fuel tank. Deanna D’Alessandro’s understanding of basic chemistry has led her to create new, incredibly absorbent chemicals that could do both these jobs and much more.

It’s all to do with surface area. Working in California and in Sydney she has constructed crystals that are full of minute holes. One teaspoon of the most effective of her chemicals has the surface area of a rugby field. What’s more, the size and shape of the pores can be customised using light. So she believes she can create molecular sponges that will mop up carbon dioxide, hydrogen, or in theory almost any gas – and then release it on cue. Continue reading Mopping up gases

Fighting back against malaria

Rowena Martin

The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne

Rowena Martin, The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne (credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au)
Rowena Martin, The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne (credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au)

In the 1950s it seemed as if medical science was winning the fight against malaria with the help of the ‘wonder drug’ chloroquine. Over the past half century the drug has saved hundreds of millions of lives.

But now the parasite that causes malaria has fought back. Chloroquine-resistant malaria has become common in developing countries. Rowena Martin is working to understand what happened, and to develop new ways of treating malaria. Continue reading Fighting back against malaria

How does breast cancer start?

Marie-Liesse Asselin-Labat

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Most women in Australia who have breast cancer recover.  But many then relapse years later.

Rowena Martin, The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne (credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au)
Rowena Martin, The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne (credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au)

Marie-Liesse Asselin-Labat wants to know why.  If she can solve this mystery, her work will open up opportunities for new drugs and treatments. Her achievements to date suggest that she is well placed to succeed.

In 2006 she was part of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research team that received global attention for its discovery of breast stem cells – a significant step in understanding how breast cancer starts. Marie-Liesse built on this finding with a series of papers exploring how these cells develop and are influenced by oestrogen and other steroids. Continue reading How does breast cancer start?

Owl CSI—feathers and DNA reveal night secrets

A powerful owl studied by Fiona Hogan. Credit: Fiona Hogan, Deakin University
A powerful owl studied by Fiona Hogan. Credit: Fiona Hogan, Deakin University

Dr Fiona Hogan is DNA fingerprinting Australian owls with the help of feathers and a keen public.

Her work is transforming our understanding of the night life of owls, normally notoriously secretive.

From a single feather, this Deakin University researcher can determine the species, sex, and identity of individual birds. She has already found a pair of powerful owls who have mated together for at least ten consecutive years, and that those breeding in urban areas are typically more closely related than those which breed in the bush.

How lobsters create their colours

Credit: CSIRO Food Futures Flagship
Credit: CSIRO Food Futures Flagship

A team of Queensland researchers have discovered the genetics that underlies the one molecule that lobsters, prawns and other crustaceans use to make the complex coloured patterns appreciated by biologists and connoisseurs of seafood.

The work of Dr Nick Wade and colleagues will help with conservation and aquaculture, and may even lead to a new food colourant. The colour of seafood is directly linked to its acceptability as food. Highly coloured lobsters and prawns attract a premium price. And for the crustaceans themselves, it’s a matter of survival.

Whiplash: who won’t get better?

MRI scan showing fat infiltration into neck muscle. Credit: James Elliot, University of Queensland
MRI scan showing fat infiltration into neck muscle. Credit: James Elliot, University of Queensland

Most people recover from whiplash injuries within the first few months. However, some people have long term pain—lasting months or years. Until now there has been no way of diagnosing these more severe cases.

New research suggests that fat deposits in the neck muscles are the key.

“We’ve found that people with long term injury have large amounts of fat infiltration in their neck muscles,” says Dr James Elliott from the University of Queensland (and former US professional baseball player). “Something is causing that difference, and it isn’t their body weight,” he says.

Dinner for tuna

Sophie Bestley catching tuna. Credit: Thor Carter, CSIRO
Sophie Bestley catching tuna. Credit: Thor Carter, CSIRO

Southern bluefin tuna can’t even have a quiet snack without CSIRO researchers knowing. They’ve developed a way of tracking when the tuna feed and also where, at what depth, and the temperature of the surrounding water.

Dr Sophie Bestley and her colleagues at CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship surgically implant miniaturised electronic ’data-storage’ tags into juvenile fishes off the coast of southern Australia.

Life beneath the sheets: 9000 years in the dark

Researchers at Geoscience Australia have unravelled the development of a unique seafloor community thriving in complete darkness below the giant ice sheets Looking into the borehole. Credit: Geoscience Australiaof Antarctica.The community beneath the Amery Ice Shelf in Antarctica is 100 kilometres from open water and hidden from view by ice half a kilometre thick. This ecosystem has developed very slowly over the past 9,000 years, since the end of the last glaciation.

Today it is home to animals such as sponges and bryozoans fed by plankton carried in on the current. Dr Alix Post studied shell fossils within core samples where she unexpectedly found evidence of these isolated ecosystems.

Strawberries that pack a flavour punch

Researchers are looking at the genetic and environmental factors that influence the taste of strawberries. Credit: RMIT
Researchers are looking at the genetic and environmental factors that influence the taste of strawberries. Credit: RMIT

Why does the same species of strawberry taste different in different countries? How is it that Californian strawberries are loved by locals but fail to impress Down Under?

RMIT University researchers, Assoc. Prof. Eddie Pang and Prof. Phil Marriott, are looking for answers to those questions to help Australian strawberry growers identify which breeds grow best in which region.

Continue reading Strawberries that pack a flavour punch

Vaccine hope for shellfish allergies

Researchers are working with prawns in the search for a shellfish allergy vaccine. Credit: RMIT
Researchers are working with prawns in the search for a shellfish allergy vaccine. Credit: RMIT

A new oral vaccine against shellfish allergies is being developed by researchers at RMIT University.

Assoc. Prof. Andreas Lopata and his team in RMIT’s School of Applied Sciences are working to help find a different method for vaccination against the potentially deadly allergy.

Continue reading Vaccine hope for shellfish allergies