Stories of Australian Science and Stories of Australia-Indonesia Innovation 2016

Head to tail: the molecules that tell you how to grow a backbone

Growing the right number of vertebrae in the right places is an important job – and scientists have found the molecules that act like ‘theatre directors’ for vertebrae genes in mice: telling them how much or how little to express themselves.

Edwina and her team were able to visualise the formation of the skeleton, using stains for bone (red) and cartilage (blue). Credit: Edwina McGlinn
Edwina and her team were able to visualise the formation of the skeleton, using stains for bone (red) and cartilage (blue). Credit: Edwina McGlinn

The finding may give insight into how the body-shapes of different species of animals evolved, since the molecules under scrutiny are present in a wide range of animals – ranging from fish to snakes to humans.

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Supercharged rice to feed the world

The discovery of C4 photosynthesis at a Brisbane sugar refinery 50 years ago spawned a whole new field of plant biology and is now well on the way to feeding the world.

Professors Bob Furbank and Susanne von Caemmerer are two of the scientists involved in creating ‘supercharged’ rice to feed the world. Credit: James Walsh, ANU
Professors Bob Furbank and Susanne von Caemmerer are two of the scientists involved in creating ‘supercharged’ rice to feed the world.
Credit: James Walsh, ANU

Three billion people rely on rice for survival, but C4 plants like maize and sugarcane grow faster, have higher yields, and are more drought-tolerant.

“C4 plants photosynthesise faster thanks to a biochemical ‘supercharger’ that concentrates CO2 in specialised structures in their leaves,” says Professor Bob Furbank from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis.

“If we can modify rice to use the C4 pathway, instead of C3, we can improve rice production and double its water efficiency.”

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Trillions of bubbles at work for Australia

Graeme Jameson’s technologies use trillions of bubbles to add billions of dollars to the value of Australia’s mineral and energy industries.

Graeme took flotation, a century-old technology developed in Broken Hill, and transformed it. A turbulent cloud of minute bubbles are pushed through a slurry of ground-up ore where they pick up tiny mineral particles and carry them to the surface.

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Making blood on demand

‘Buddy’ cells that trigger blood stem cells to fully-develop have been discovered by a team of Australian scientists. The finding, in zebrafish, may hold the key to creating blood on demand in the lab.

Everyday medical procedures can require litres of donated blood; and blood stem cells – which can turn into any one of the different types of blood cell – are often used in treatments for leukaemia, lymphoma, and other blood cancers.

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Unboiling an egg

Scientists in Australia and California have worked out how to unboil an egg. It may sound like an odd discovery, but it’s changed the way scientists think about manipulating proteins, an industry worth AU$160 billion per year.

Flinders University Professor Colin Raston and his team have developed Vortex Fluid Technology – using mechanical energy, or spinning, to reverse the effects of thermal energy, or boiling.

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Where are the plants and animals we want to conserve, and the invaders we want to control?

Jane Elith is one of the most influential environmental scientists in the world, though she rarely ventures into the field.

Jane Elith (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear)
In the field of environment and ecology, Jane is the 11th most cited author worldwide over the past 10 years. Credit: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science/WildBear

She develops and assesses species distribution models, which are used by governments, land and catchment managers and conservationists around the world—in short, for applying the lessons of ecology.

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