Improving agriculture, together

A new approach to horticultural spraying could be the result of a collaboration between design students from Kyoto Institute of Technology and Swinburne University in Melbourne.

“Yanmar is a manufacturer of farm machinery, and they asked us to solve a big problem for grape-growers,” says Natsumi Takamatsu, a design student at Kyoto.

“What we developed was a sprayer to mitigate the drift of sprayed agricultural chemicals. Really it was the actual viticulturists when we interviewed them and they were saying things like ‘If only I had something like this.’”

“Australia and Japan enjoy the seasons at opposite times of the year so we can conduct field research in the vineyards all year,” says Yoshiro Ono from Kyoto Institute of Technology.

Harnessing the sun and improving agriculture

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have built a pilot concentrated solar power plant in Yokohama. It uses CSIRO technology now being manufactured by South Australian company Heliostat SA.

“We’re making seven-and-a-half-metre square solar mirrors,” says David Linder-Patton, the CEO of Heliostat SA.

They focus the sun’s energy into a tower receiver that generates heat which can be used in industries such as steel manufacturing, brick processing and mineral refining.

The Mitsubishi plant will test their technology on receivers they have developed and also CSIRO’s suntracking technology and heliostat manufacturing.

“Working with companies the size of Mitsubishi helps us to get to industrial scale a lot quicker than we could do otherwise,” says David.

Making mining safer


In Western Australia’s Pilbara iron ore mines, a fleet of robot trucks are moving more than a billion tonnes of dirt and rock. The giant trucks carry 350 tonnes in every load. They’ve been developed over the past decade in partnership with Komatsu.

“Rio Tinto and Japan’s Komatsu came together to produce not just the robots but a technology that is immensely useful to Rio Tinto.

Putting those things together has produced a fantastic result,” says Tetsuji Ohashi, the CEO of Komatsu.

“Mining in the future is all about moving lots and lots of material more efficiently,” says Michael Gollschewski, the MD of Rio Tinto’s Pilbara mines.

“Today we’ve got controllers sitting in the operation centre in Perth, overseeing 72 autonomous trucks 1500 km away in the Pilbara across three different sites. It’s amazing,” he says. 

Repairing teeth together


Across Japan teeth are being made stronger with chewing gum and other products using an ingredient discovered in Australian dairy milk.

Now an innovative Japanese company is taking the Australian discovery to dental surgeries around the world.

“Our discovery was based on milk, to develop a delivery system of calcium phosphate to make teeth stronger,” says Eric Reynolds, from The University of Melbourne.

Clinical trials of the chewing gum showed that it helps stop tooth decay and helps reverse early stages of tooth decay.

“The Recaldent chewing gum was very successful in Japan and the leading dental supply company in Japan, GC Corporation, then became interested in the technology.”

“We’ve developed materials for repair of tooth decay and damage but now we’re focusing on prevention and protection collaborating with Melbourne University,” says Satoshi Tosaki from GC Corporation.

“One of those products is a cream, in Australia it’s called Tooth Mousse, that’s sold to dentists to strengthen patients’ teeth and that’s now sold in more than 50 countries worldwide,” he says.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with GC because I’ve learnt a lot from them in terms of business. But I think the most gratifying thing is that their products actually help people, and substantially reduce the burden of oral disease,” Eric says.

Fighting disease together

Malaria kills 500,000 people every year. And 90 per cent of those are children. Griffith University researchers are screening hundreds of thousands of compounds supplied by Japanese companies to find the right compound with activity against the malaria parasite.

Japan’s Global Health Innovative Technology Fund is supporting the research as part of their search for new ways to fight malaria.

“GHIT is a fund that invests in partnerships between Japanese and non-Japanese entities,” says BT Slingsby, the Executive Director of GHIT.

“Many of those entities are in Australia including The University of Melbourne, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and Griffith University.”

“Currently we’re working with companies such as Daiichi-Sankyo, Takeda, Mitsubishi Tanabe, and Eisai,” says Griffith University’s Vicky Avery. 

They bring those compounds to us. We then dispense them into plates which contain the parasite we’re trying to kill.  After they’ve been incubated for a period of time we then look to see whether they’ve had an effect in killing the parasites.

“Once one defines a hit, usually it’s the pharmaceutical company that drives forward the further development of that compound to create a drug.

“This collaboration is fantastic in that it has three groups who complement each other,” Vicky says.

The Japanese pharma companies bring expertise in drug discovery and development.  GHIT has managed to pull together significant funding from both global partners as well as the Japanese Government. And Griffith University brings the biology expertise.

Exploring the mystery of the oceans

Australia and Japan are both island nations with vast maritime reserves and responsibilities. Together we’re developing the science needed to understand, use, enjoy and protect our unique marine ecosystems. And we’re collaborating to solve some of the mysteries of the ocean systems that drive the world’s climate.

Attack of the giant starfish

The waters off Japan’s tropical Okinawa Islands are home to hundreds of species of coral. The reefs attract a rich diversity of life: fish, turtles, whale sharks, and… the crown-of-thorns starfish.

Five thousand kilometres to the south is the Great Barrier Reef—the world’s largest reef system and one of the richest and most diverse natural ecosystems on Earth. The Australian Government is committed to protecting the Reef and has developed a plan to 2050 to ensure the sustainability of the Reef. But the Reef has lost half its coral cover in the past 30 years and periodic plagues of crown-of-thorns are responsible for more than forty per cent of the coral loss. Continue reading Exploring the mystery of the oceans

Changing lives: Australia–Japan science links

To read about Japan-Australia innovation collaborations—including searching for new malaria drugs, giant robot trucks carrying ore, and chewing gum that reverses tooth decay—click here.

Japanese science changing Australia

The impact of Japanese technological prowess on Australian society is obvious for all to see. How we listened to music was transformed by audio recording technologies: from the Walkman to the CD. Home entertainment was changed by video tapes, DVDs, and game consoles. We rely on Japanese innovation in transport—reliable car engineering, the lean manufacturing techniques that made them affordable and, more recently, hybrid cars.

Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka changed stem cell science. Credit: Gladstone Institutes/Chris Goodfellow
Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka changed stem cell science. Credit: Gladstone Institutes/Chris Goodfellow

Fundamental science discoveries are bringing a new era of transformation. Japanese researchers were honoured last year with the Nobel Prize for their invention of the blue LED. They succeeded where for 30 years everyone else had failed. Incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th century; the 21st century will be lit by LED lamps—lasting a lifetime and using a fraction of the energy.

In 2006 Shinya Yamanaka discovered how intact mature cells in mice could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. By introducing only a few genes, he could reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent stem cells, that is, immature cells that are able to develop into all types of cells in the body. His work is transforming stem cell medicine and many Australian researchers are now using induced pluripotent stem cells to develop stem cell medicines.

Continue reading Changing lives: Australia–Japan science links

Sharing light and neutrons

Japanese researchers are coming to Australia for our neutron beams. It’s helping them continue their research following the shutdown of all Japanese research reactors in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. And it cements a friendship in beamline science that kickstarted Australian access to synchrotron light.

A tsuba (hand guard) from a samurai sword imaged using neutrons from OPAL. Credit: Floriana Salvemini, ANSTO
A tsuba (hand guard) from a samurai sword imaged using neutrons from OPAL.
Credit: Floriana Salvemini, ANSTO

“Japan’s leadership in electronics, advanced manufacturing and computing complements Australia’s leadership in agriculture, health and minerals,” says the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) Robert Robinson, who chaired an Australia Japan Neutron Science Workshop in 2013.
The collaboration is contributing to research into: hard magnets for electric cars; new high density plastics; superconducting cables for the ITER fusion reactor; and the structure of a range of biological molecules.

Continue reading Sharing light and neutrons

Reducing the impact of earthquakes

Working together, researchers in Japan and Australia are getting better at predicting the areas most at risk from earthquakes.

They are also working together on ways to determine, within seconds of a warning, the scale and likely impact of an earthquake.
Rapid detection and warning systems combined with smart engineering saved many lives in the Great Japanese Earthquake of 2011. But the earthquake and the resulting tsunami were much bigger than geological modelling suggested. The reasons for that might be found in deep history.

Mapping the hazard

Big earthquakes may be separated by centuries or millennia. But earthquake hazard maps are based on information gathered since 1900 when modern seismographs came into use. It’s difficult to model events happening over millennia when you have not got deep historical information. Continue reading Reducing the impact of earthquakes

Internationalising science together

IVF, heart research, and coral research gain from working together

Australian and Japanese science leaders understand the importance of internationalising their research—creating international science networks that are more than the sum of their parts. And the complementary strengths of the two countries result in greatly enhanced research when they work together.

President of The Systems Biology Institute Hiroakai Kitano with CEO of Monash IVF James Thiedeman (left), credit: EMBL
President of The Systems Biology Institute Hiroakai Kitano with CEO of Monash IVF James Thiedeman (left), credit: EMBL Australia

Science is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary, and the collaborations between Japan and Australia reflect this trend. One rapidly growing network is being driven by the Systems Biology Institute of Japan, together with Monash University and the Australian affiliate of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). The natural partners joined forces in 2013 to create SBI Australia, the Japanese Institute’s first international affiliate. It was joined by SBI Singapore in 2014.
Continue reading Internationalising science together

Finding new drugs for malaria

New drugs may be on the way for malaria, a disease that helps push millions of people into extreme poverty, thanks to an Australian team working with a remarkable new Japanese organisation.

Continue reading Finding new drugs for malaria