Australian detectives can now use a pinch of dirt or a speck of dust to help solve crimes, thanks to techniques developed at the Australian synchrotron.
Soil composition is as unique as a fingerprint so scientists can analyse dirt samples and, in theory, match their results to specific regions of the Earth’s surface. Until recently, large sample sizes were needed to make this work.
Continue reading Dirt solves murder mysteries
South Australian researchers are using the Australian Synchrotron in their work on how to increase levels of iron and other micronutrients in staple grains such as rice and barley. The intense X-rays of the synchrotron can pinpoint where in the grain those micronutrients are found.
One third of the world’s population suffers from iron deficiency. One of the reasons for this is that more than three-quarters of the iron in rice is lost when the outer layers of the grain are removed during milling.
Enzo Lombi and Erica Donner from the Centre for Environmental Risk Assessment and Remediation at the University of South Australia are using the x-ray fluorescence microscopy (XFM) beam to probe grains of rice, barley and other staple grains that have been designed to boost levels of key micronutrients like iron.
The researchers use the intense synchrotron light to produce images showing concentrations of elements, like iron, copper, zinc and selenium.
One of the new plants they are studying is a strain of rice that has multiple copies of the gene for nicotianamine, which is involved in the long-distance transport of iron. The idea is that more iron will be moved into the inner layers of the rice grain.
The technique used by Enzo and Erica is the only one sensitive enough to determine the chemical form of these elements at the low levels found in cereal grains. It will show how much of the iron will be available when it reaches the consumer.
Photo: Tri-colour map of: Fe (red), Cu (green) and Zn (blue) in a grain of barley.
Credit: Enzo Lombi
Centre for Environmental Risk Assessment and Remediation, Enzo Lombi, Tel: +61 8 830 26267, Enzo.Lombi@unisa.edu.au
Baker’s yeast could soon be turning sugar cane into jet fuel. Dr Claudia Vickers from the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at the University of Queensland leads a team studying strains which already produce ethanol, industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
The researchers want to use the yeast strains S. cerevisiae to make isoprenoids, chemicals traditionally used to make pharmaceuticals and food additives, but which can also serve as fuel.
The idea is to give the yeast new functions, so they can consume sucrose from cane sugar and produce isoprenoid products, which can be used to replace or supplement traditional jet fuel, without modifying existing aircraft engines or infrastructure.
Claudia’s lab was originally looking at the gut bacteria E. coli, which could also be used to produce isoprenoids, but the yeast is now looking more promising.
Other research groups at The University of Queensland and James Cook University are looking to develop aviation fuel from algae and the oilseed tree Pongamia, both of which can be grown without competing with traditional food crops for land or water.
The University’s sustainable aviation fuel initiative has attracted several backers including Boeing, Virgin Australia, Mackay Sugar, Brisbane-based IOR Energy, and the US-based green energy company Amyris. It is funded by the Queensland State Government.
Photo: Dr Claudia Vickers is leading a team looking at modifying baker’s yeast to make aviation fuel.
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.
“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.
The University of Melbourne
Smart capsules could change the way we deliver drugs.
Today, when we’re treated for cancer, the drug spreads throughout the body indiscriminately. Along the way it causes side-effects such as nausea and hair loss. Continue reading A smarter way to deliver drugs
The University of Queensland
Turning to mathematics to allow us to make smarter conservation decisions.
The diversity of life on Earth underpins the global economy. But we’re losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate and human-induced climate change will threaten more species—up to 37 per cent of the plants and animals with which we share the world. Continue reading Can we save the tiger with mathematics?
James Cook University
Coral interactions more complex than ever suspected.
Dr Tracy Ainsworth’s research is changing our understanding of the life of the tiny coral animals that built Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef.
Her work comes at a critical time for the future of coral reefs—threatened by a warming ocean and by coral bleaching. Continue reading The complex life of coral
An inexpensive, environmentally friendly alternative to a toxic coating currently used in Australian naval helicopters has been developed at Monash University in collaboration with CAST Cooperative Research Centre in Melbourne.
The magnesium alloy used to house the gearbox of Royal Australian Navy SeaHawk helicopters is prone to severe corrosion in marine environments, costing millions of dollars in maintenance every year. To protect the alloy from corrosion, it is covered with a chrome-based coating that is toxic to humans and the environment.
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 (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.”