Fresh Science is a national competition helping early-career researchers find, and then share, their stories of discovery.

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Eating plastic makes for smaller mussels

RMIT researcher calls for reducing ‘microplastics’ in bathroom products

Mussels in Port Phillip Bay near Melbourne are ingesting microscopic pieces of plastic used in cosmetics. And it’s affecting their ability to grow and reproduce, an RMIT University eco-toxicologist has found.

The microplastics travel from our bathroom sinks to the ocean, where they are easily confused with algae or seaweeds. Because they cannot tell the difference, the mussels take in the plastic along with their normal diet of algae.

But, says researcher Dr Charlene Trestrail, the plastics affect the action of four of their key digestive enzymes which means the mussels then struggle to break down starch into the simple sugars they need to survive.

“We don’t think the plastic affects mussels directly, but it does reduce their ability to digest the real food in their gut, which means they miss out on energy and nutrients,” says Dr Trestrail.

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Smart glove to train young surgeons

A glove is being trialled at Liverpool Hospital that gives surgical trainees instant and accurate feedback. Researchers say the gloves could also be used by musicians and artists.

Engineers at Western Sydney University have invented a new surgical glove built around low-cost sensors which can record hand movements in fine detail, giving trainee surgeons and their mentors actionable data to evaluate and improve on intricate surgical procedures.

The research team are working closely with surgeons and students at Liverpool Hospital to develop the technology, which will augment rather than replace traditional surgical training.

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A new tool to measure social inclusion to save lives

Work, housing and friendships are core factors to feeling included.

A new tool developed by researchers at Orygen to measure and monitor social inclusion was tested with more than 500 young people.

By identifying the early signs of isolation and loneliness, support can be provided to prevent more serious mental ill-health.

In mental healthcare, simple screening tools for common conditions like depression and anxiety make it possible to diagnose people quickly and get help sooner.

A new tool developed at Orygen does the same, but for social inclusion: the F-SIM (Filia Social Inclusion Measure), developed by Dr Kate Filia and being presented in Hobart this week at the Society for Mental Health Research conference, could help to pinpoint the causes of isolation and social exclusion,

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Ancient campfires reveal a 50,000 year old grocer and pharmacy

For the first time in Australia, archaeobotany has been used by researchers from UWA to examine charcoal from ancient campfires in the Western Desert.

They found wattle and other Acacias which proves it was (and still is) used by Indigenous people for tools, food and medicine.

The iconic wattle isn’t just about sports uniforms and the coat of arms – new finds in the oldest archaeological site on the land of the Martu in the Western Desert shows how wattle has defined culture and been important to Australians for over 50,000 years.

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Food and housing crisis for Melbourne’s native bees

RMIT researchers call on Melburnians to plant the right plants and create the right homes for native pollinators.
They say we’ll get better tomato crops, more flowers and boost urban biodiversity.

As Melbourne’s gardens burst into life after a wet spring, native insects are out looking for flowers and pollen. City gardeners rely on bees, butterflies and other insects to pollinate their plants, which is how flowering plants reproduce and grow fruit or seeds.

But city gardens often don’t have the right types of food and homes for these helpful native bees and flies, with knock-on effects for our gardens and for biodiversity. Urban ecologist Katherine Berthon from RMIT University found that only 43% of flowers in the Melbourne city gardens she studied were being used by bees and other pollinating insects.

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Fishing for solutions to the plastic problem

A University of Adelaide study shows industry players are open to measures to reduce plastics in seafood – but first they have to understand the problem.

More than 35 percent of fish caught in the waters off southern Australia contain microplastics, and the problem is most acute in South Australia, with plastic found in 49 percent of fish, according to research from the University of Adelaide.

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Minimising severe injury from blast events on military vehicles

Dale Robinson, The University of Melbourne

Research conducted by former Fresh Science participant Dale Robinson has been covered in the 2020-2021 edition of Defence Science and Technology’s Outlook magazine.

Dr Robinson is a biomedical engineer at the University of Melbourne.

Minimising severe injury from blast events on military vehicles

Blast events inflicted on military vehicles are a consistent threat in contemporary conflicts. Developing equipment that better protects soldiers from this threat has become the focus of significant military research. It is critical to understand how severe injuries are inflicted and how forces from blast events are transmitted to the human body in order to strengthen blast protection for soldiers.

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For knee injuries, surgery may not be the best option

Research finds rehab-only treatment yields better long-term results

Adam Culvenor, La Trobe University

Knee reconstructions may lead to more problems later in life than non-surgical rehabilitation, researchers have found.

A team led by Dr Adam Culvenor from La Trobe University looked at health outcomes for athletes with damaged anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) – a devastating injury, particularly common among footballers.

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Detecting asthma in horses

Using a face mask, Adelaide researchers have a new way to detect a major hidden equine health issue.

Surita du Preez, The University of Adelaide

Up to 80 percent of horses – including racehorses and showjumpers – suffer from a form of asthma that affects their performance and wellbeing.

Researchers led by veterinarian Surita Du Preez from the University of Adelaide are designing a way to detect the condition – which often produces no obvious symptoms – without adding further stress to the affected animals.

“Currently the methods that are available to diagnose the mild to moderate form of horse asthma are invasive,” says Surita.

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