Saving Indonesia’s cocoa

Supporting farmers and improving crop sustainability are the focus of collaborative work to save Indonesia’s ailing cocoa bean yields.

Production of cocoa beans for chocolate making is big business in Indonesia, especially in Sulawesi—where from the 1970s to 1990s, production grew from almost nothing to around 1.5 million hectares of smallholder plantings, and the third-largest production output in the world.

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Brain training to give tendon pain the boot

Footy player, netballer and ballet dancer available for interview

Re-training the brain with painless exercises may be the key to stopping recurring tendon pain, according to Melbourne researchers.

Dr Ebonie Rio
Dr Ebonie Rio

AFL, basketball and netball players are the major sufferers, with tendon pain in the knee debilitating and long-lasting. The injury can sideline a player or cause them to give up the sport entirely.

“More than 50 per cent of people who stop sport because of tendon pain still suffer from that pain 15 years later,” says Dr Ebonie Rio of the Monash University Tendon Research group.

“Our simple exercise is revolutionising how we treat tendinopathy.”

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Preparing for the worst

Fire fighters should identify what are potentially the worst-case events and prepare for them, even if they are extremely unlikely to occur, says Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre psychology researcher Claire Johnson.

Preparing for the worst
Fire fighters need to be prepared for the worst that can happen. Credit: Queensland Fire and Rescue Service

“A failure to consider worst-case scenario possibilities has been implicated in a number of high-profile investigations into Australian bushfire disasters,” says Claire, who submitted her PhD thesis on worst-case scenario planning to La Trobe University in Melbourne in March this year.

For instance, the inquiries following the Canberra bushfires in 2003 and the Wangary fires on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula in 2006 both suggested lack of considering the worst contributed to an underestimation of the threat posed.
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Stopping parasite means more, safer meat

The world’s meat production could be lifted by 10 to 15 per cent if a vaccine can be found to combat the liver fluke.

Stopping parasite means more, safer meat
Juvenile liver fluke parasites which cause serious disease in livestock and humans. Credit: D Piedrafita (Monash); T Spithill (La Trobe).
This is the aim of a collaborative bioscience group at the new $288 million Centre for AgriBioscience (AgriBio).

An effective vaccine against liver fluke could not only boost meat production but would also lead to a large reduction in the amount of drugs given to livestock, says Prof Terry Spithill, who is co-director of AgriBio and based at La Trobe University.
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Body’s power plants offer clues to Parkinson’s disease

How do the power plants of the cell—the mitochondria—use their defence mechanisms to fight diseases such as Parkinson’s disease? This debilitating disorder is caused by an accumulation of proteins that have folded incorrectly.

The body’s power plant mitochondria. Credit: Istockphoto.
The body’s power plant mitochondria. Credit: Istockphoto.

The misfolded proteins then clump together and form sticky, cell-damaging deposits called plaques.

“We know that mitochondria are at the centre of the aging process,” says Prof Nick Hoogenraad, executive director of the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS). Nick and his team have found a mechanism mitochondria use to remove the plaques that are prone to form as we age.

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Fresh Science 2010

Each year we identify early-career scientists with a discovery and bring them to Melbourne for a communication boot camp. Here are some of their stories.

More at www.freshscience.org.au

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens
Jacek Jasieniak sprinkling quantum dots. Credit: Jacek Jasieniak

Imagine printing your own room lighting, lasers, or solar cells from inks you buy at the local newsagent. Jacek Jasieniak and colleagues at CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and the University of Padua in Italy, have developed liquid inks based on quantum dots that can be used to print such devices and in the first demonstration of their technology have produced tiny lasers. Quantum dots are made of semiconductor material grown as nanometre-sized crystals, around a millionth of a millimetre in diameter. The laser colour they produce can be selectively tuned by varying their size.

Cling wrap captures CO2
Colin Scholes operates a test rig for his carbon capture membrane. Credit: CO2 CRC

Cling wrap captures CO2

High tech cling wraps that ‘sieve out’ carbon dioxide from waste gases can help save the world, says Melbourne University chemical engineer, Colin Scholes who developed the technology. The membranes can be fitted to existing chimneys where they capture CO2 for removal and storage. Not only are the new membranes efficient, they are also relatively cheap to produce. They are already being tested on brown coal power stations in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, Colin says. “We are hoping these membranes will cut emissions from power stations by up to 90 per cent.”

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Mites hitch lift in birds’ beaks

Eastern Spinebill Credit: Rohan Clarke, Wildlife Images
Eastern Spinebill. Credit: Rohan Clarke, Wildlife Images

Nectar-eating Australian birds make clever choices about which flowers to raid. And so do the flower mites which hitch a ride in their nasal passages, according to zoologists Jolene Scoble and Assoc. Prof. Michael Clarke at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

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Lake Mungo reveals ancient human adaptation to climate change

Lake Mungo’s ancient landscape.
Lake Mungo’s ancient landscape.

Aboriginal Elders from the Traditional Tribal Groups in the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area are collaborating with researchers to produce the first integrated account of the history of human settlement, landscape evolution and past environmental change for Australia’s foremost ‘Ice Age’ archive.

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