Modern humans were in Southeast Asia 20,000 years earlier than previously thought

Dating of ancient human teeth discovered in a Sumatran cave site suggests modern humans were in Southeast Asia 20,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The international research, led by Dr Kira Westaway from Macquarie University and published in Nature, has pushed back the timing of when humans first left Africa, their arrival in Southeast Asia, and the first time they lived in rainforests.

Continue reading Modern humans were in Southeast Asia 20,000 years earlier than previously thought

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.

Blood reveals Great Barrier Reef sharks as homebodies

Small Australian sharks have been exposed as bigger homebodies than previously thought, in a study that took an existing chemical tracking technique and made it work for Great Barrier Reef sharks.

Dr Sam Munroe in the field
Dr Sam Munroe working in the field, Cleveland Bay, Queensland

The study found that the travel history of the Australian sharpnose shark was written in their blood—with chemical ‘fin-prints’ showing they tended to stay within smaller areas than previously believed.

“Small-bodied sharks that are both predator and prey, such as the Australian sharpnose, may be particularly important links between food webs,” says lead researcher Dr Sam Munroe, who studied the sharks while at James Cook University in Townsville.

“Information on their movements can improve our understanding of how the ecosystems function, while also helping us predict species most at risk from the impacts of a changing environment.”

Continue reading Blood reveals Great Barrier Reef sharks as homebodies

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.

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Micro sensors for extreme conditions

Miniaturised sensors are nothing new, but ones made from a combination of silicon carbide (SiC) and the single-layer lattice of carbon atoms known as graphene certainly are. These new sensors are being designed to operate under the harshest of conditions.

Tiny structures etched into graphene-silicon carbide wafers, will be used in micro sensors for a variety of applications
Tiny structures etched into graphene-silicon carbide wafers, will be used in micro sensors for a variety of applications. Credit: QMF/GU

Research, led by the Australian National Fabrication Facility’s (ANFF) Queensland node at Griffith University, promises a new generation of tiny microelectromechanical system (MEMS) sensors that are sensitive to very low forces, can work at high frequencies and in extreme conditions—above 1,000°C or under an acceleration of several times g—and are resistant to chemical attack. Continue reading Micro sensors for extreme conditions

Understanding our home: the Milky Way

The far reaches of the Universe hold many mysteries—but there’s a lot we still don’t understand about our own backyard, the Milky Way galaxy within which our Solar System sits. How did it form, and how has it grown? How are new stars born within our galaxy, and how do old ones die? These are some of the questions about our galaxy that Australian astronomers are working to answer.

Our gas-guzzling galaxy

NAOMI MCCLURE-GRIFFITHS WITH THE PARKES RADIO TELESCOPE. CREDIT: DAVID MCCLENAGHAN © 2011 CSIRO.
NAOMI MCCLURE-GRIFFITHS WITH THE PARKES RADIO TELESCOPE. CREDIT: DAVID MCCLENAGHAN © 2011 CSIRO.

“There’s a lot we still don’t know about our Milky Way galaxy,” says Naomi McClure-Griffiths of the CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science. “It’s the old can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees problem—we have a hard time seeing its structure from the inside.”

Since 2004, Naomi has headed the Galactic All Sky Survey (GASS), the most sensitive survey of the galaxy’s hydrogen gas visible from the Southern Hemisphere. Using CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope, GASS is investigating how different parts of the galaxy interact, where stars are being formed, what happens when they die, and how they cause new stars to be born.

“Our galaxy is basically a big machine that’s producing stars from gas,” says Naomi. “How that works is a question that dominates not just galactic astronomy, but astronomy in general.”

The survey half of the project is complete and now the analysis has begun, with six papers already published. One thing the team is hoping to determine is whether the bits and pieces of gas floating around the galaxy are the fresh ‘food’ the galaxy needs to make new stars. Does this gas come from outside or inside? “We’re finding that it’s both,” says Naomi. “But the galaxy particularly needs fresh stuff from outside, and we think that comes partly from small galaxies it has consumed.”

The Parkes telescope, which is now fitted with a receiver to observe multiple parts of the sky at once, is vital to this study, says Naomi. “The multibeam instrument has made Parkes seven times better and completely revolutionised the field,” she says. “If the multibeam didn’t exist, work I finished years ago would still be incomplete today.”

PHOTO: NAOMI MCCLURE-GRIFFITHS WITH THE PARKES RADIO TELESCOPE. CREDIT: DAVID MCCLENAGHAN © 2011 CSIRO.

CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science Dr Naomi McClure-Griffiths, Tel: +61 (2) 9372 4321, naomi.mcclure-griffiths@csiro.au, www.atnf.csiro.au/research/GASS/

Also in this section:

Galactic archaeology— digging into the Milky Way’s past
Profiling and fingerprinting the stars
Stellar immigration

Innovation today means jobs and prosperity tomorrow

Astronomer Naomi McClure Griffiths at Parkes. Credit: CSIRO
Astronomer Naomi McClure Griffiths at Parkes. Credit: CSIRO
  • A factory in Boise, Idaho, is re-opening to make a new kind of solar cell invented at the Australian National University (ANU).
  • In Pittsburgh, they’re already making an ‘ultra-battery’ for storage of renewable energy, developed at Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO. The technology will also be used in hybrid cars.
  • Texan cotton farmers are growing crops that use less water, less pesticide and produce better cotton, with the help of CSIRO-derived plant varieties.
  • In Nebraska, Cold War technology, adapted by Australian mining company BHP Billiton, is being used to find rare earth mineral deposits from the air.
  • In Hawaii, one of the world’s largest optical telescopes uses an instrument built at ANU to analyze infrared light.
  • Across America, deaf children are hearing for the first time thanks to a cochlear implant or bionic ear invented and manufactured in Australia.
  • Young women have access to vaccines that prevent cervical cancer, because of the work of an Australian medical researcher at the University of Queensland.
  • And millions of people are connecting to the internet wirelessly, thanks to discoveries by CSIRO astronomer-engineers.

These are just a few examples of the way Australian and US science and innovation are working together to build a healthier, sustainable and more connected future for the people of both nations.

“Australia and America’s shared vision of growth through innovation has in the past led to developments from the Nulka hovering decoy rocket which protects ships against incoming missiles, to improvements in IVF technology. It can generate not only jobs, but a better future for both countries.”

Continue reading Innovation today means jobs and prosperity tomorrow