Science collaboration improves health

Dr Ian Frazer Administers the first Australian Gardasil Vaccination. Credit: University of Queensland
Dr Ian Frazer Administers the first Australian Gardasil Vaccination. Credit: University of Queensland

Australia’s impact on world health has been profound: from devices helping deaf children hear, to cancer-preventing vaccines and even the development of penicillin. But there is much more to come. Australians are working, often with researchers from the United States, on hundreds of projects including medical spin-outs from genome research, HIV vaccines, the use of phones to diagnose mental illnesses, and a suite of drugs to prevent and treat obesity and diabetes.

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Searching the southern sky, and unchaining the internet

Gemini North. Credit: Gemini
Gemini North. Credit: Gemini

Through their unique view of the southern sky, Australian researchers are unraveling the secrets of the cosmos—and they’re doing it with a huge helping hand from the US. In return, Australian astronomer engineers have helped change the world via discoveries that have unchained notebook computers, made flight safer, improved CT scans, and delivered clearer sound. Now, Australia and the US are working together to design the next generation of telescopes: the Giant Magellan optical telescope to be constructed in Chile; the gravitational observatories looking for echoes from the Big Bang; and what will be the world’s largest radio telescope— the Square Kilometre Array.

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Traveling at Mach 5: Defense and materials science in action

US Aircraft Carrier USS Nimitz which will be protected by Nulka Credit: U.S. Navy/James Mitchell
US Aircraft Carrier USS Nimitz which will be protected by Nulka Credit: U.S. Navy/James Mitchell

Blink and you’ll certainly miss it. Australian and US defense scientists have conducted two of 10 test flights of rockets that use revolutionary scramjet propulsion at the Woomera Test Range in South Australia. The rockets travel at hypersonic speeds of more than Mach 5—that’s well over 3,000 miles per hour. More conventionally, an Australian-designed missile that masquerades as a ship has been selected to protect US aircraft carriers. But it’s not just rocket science where Australian and US collaborations have raced ahead. Artificial intelligence research could see manned and unmanned aircraft fly in the same airspace. Australian materials have been incorporated into the latest American aircraft. And quantum computers could soon be solving the knottiest of problems, now that Australian scientists have pointed the way to building them.

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Delivering sustainable agriculture and biosecurity

PhD student Elena Virtue at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory. Credit: CSIRO
PhD student Elena Virtue at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory. Credit: CSIRO

Across America’s Deep South, farmers are growing Australian-derived cotton and, as a result, slashing their use of pesticides. It’s part of a global drive to increase production and sustainability involving Australian and American researchers, and agritech giants such as Monsanto, Dow Chemical and DuPont. All these companies have agreements with Australian researchers helping to develop the next generation of smart crops. The underlying technologies are being applied to dozens of crops and even to medical research.

Meanwhile, US and Australian scientists are working side by side to enhance biosecurity—fighting deadly new killers such as Nipah virus, ancient plagues such as malaria, and emerging threats to agriculture and the environment. American scientists working in Brisbane are testing biological controls to fight against invasive plants that threaten the Florida Everglades, while NASA technology is helping Australia cope with its locust plagues and teams across both countries are trying to understand what is killing frogs worldwide.

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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.”

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Fighting back against malaria

Rowena Martin

The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne

Rowena Martin, The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne (credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au)
Rowena Martin, The Australian National University, Canberra/The University of Melbourne (credit: L’Oréal Australia/sdpmedia.com.au)

In the 1950s it seemed as if medical science was winning the fight against malaria with the help of the ‘wonder drug’ chloroquine. Over the past half century the drug has saved hundreds of millions of lives.

But now the parasite that causes malaria has fought back. Chloroquine-resistant malaria has become common in developing countries. Rowena Martin is working to understand what happened, and to develop new ways of treating malaria. Continue reading Fighting back against malaria

VESKI’s innovative fellowships deliver results

VESKI’s main initiative – to return successful Australian expatriates with outstanding skills in science, technology and design – is paying off with some inspiring work.

In 2004, VESKI’s – Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge and Innovation – inaugural Fellow Professor Andrew Holmes returned from Cambridge University to work in a new $100 million Bio21 Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Institute. One of the most important research areas to emerge since has been the development of cheap plastic solar cells.

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Venom from the sea cures human pain

The University of Melbourne’s Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Pharmacology have over recent years identified cone shell venom as a potential treatment for chronic pain in humans.

Researchers continue to develop the research into a commercialised product. One of the venom peptides identified is currently in phase two of clinical trials.

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Master switch turns plant sex life on and off

University of Melbourne researchers have isolated a genetic ‘switch’ that can be turned on or off to alter the development of sex cells in plants.

The discovery brings understanding of fertilisation in plants to a new level, and is an important step towards growing greater amounts of food through increased fertilisation of crop plants. Professors Mohan Singh and Prem Bhalla, who head the University’s Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Laboratory in the Faculty of Land and Food Resources, analysed the genetic makeup of white lilies and other flowering plants to identify a germline-restrictive silencing factor (GRSF).

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