Smartphone testing for Zika virus

Prototypes of a portable test for Zika virus and a range of other diseases, using just a microchip plugged into a smartphone, may be available by the end of 2016.

Patients will soon be able to test themselves for diseases like Zika virus or breast cancer from the comfort of their own home. Credit: Siro Perez, Molecular Warehouse Ltd.
Patients will soon be able to test themselves for diseases like Zika virus or breast cancer from the comfort of their own home.
Credit: Siro Perez, Molecular Warehouse Ltd.

Zika – a rapidly-spreading, mosquito-borne disease – doesn’t always show symptoms and currently has no treatment or vaccine.

The new test could be performed from the comfort of the patient’s own home according to Professor Kirill Alexandrov from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) at The University of Queensland.

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Tracking fish with parasites and maths

How much fish move around is critical information for fisheries managers—for example they need to know if fish caught off Brisbane are a separate population to those caught off Cairns. Different tracking techniques, such as physical tags or genetic mapping, can be used but each method has its weaknesses.

A team of mathematicians is using pre-existing data on Spanish mackerel, using their hitchhiking parasites to track fish movements and model the populations.

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Who cares about the blobfish?

Hugh Possingham and his team are making conservation more efficient. They’re helping to save less fashionable threatened species by getting more bang for the bucks donated to cute and cuddly species.

The team of ecologists and mathematicians in the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Environmental Decisions (CEED) worked with the New Zealand government to assess how to better spend money that is donated to conservation. They’ve shown that by protecting habitats shared by several different species, the money donated to charismatic ones can be stretched further to save other species as well.

Could this koala help save less cute species? 9credit: Liana Joseph
Could this koala help save less cute species? (credit: Liana Joseph)

“The way we currently attempt to save species is inefficient, choosing species that are popular or charismatic, like koalas and tigers, over those that are less well known or even ugly, like the blobfish,” says Hugh, ARC Laureate Fellow and Director of CEED.

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Preserving the foundations of Japanese culture

An Australian archaeologist is advising on the preservation of sites of the unique prehistoric Jomon culture of Japan.

Remnants of the Jomon’s unique culture are found in diverse archaeological sites in northern Honshu and Hokkaido, credit: Ian Lilley.
Remnants of the Jomon’s unique culture are found in diverse archaeological sites in northern Honshu and Hokkaido, credit: Ian Lilley.

Hunter-gatherers are typically thought to be wanderers who moved to harvest the animals and plants on which they fed. Not so the Jomon, one of the important founding peoples of Japan.

By careful management of the resources they found in many varied environments in the north of Japan—fruit, nuts, fish, seafood, birds—the Jomon lived in permanent settlements for about ten thousand years until three thousand years ago. They were not farmers, but nonetheless lived in open, undefended villages. They developed sophisticated pottery, basketry and lacquered wooden crafts, and constructed storage pits and stone monuments.

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Australian Academy of Science medals

Harry Messel has been a powerful force in science education—from the Physics Foundation to textbooks and his establishment of International Science Schools. He was awarded the Academy Medal.

Simon McKeon is a prominent business leader and philanthropist who has made extensive contributions to Australian science and innovation including chairing the CSIRO Board and the agenda-setting McKeon report into medical research in Australia. He was awarded the Academy Medal.

The life and death of cells: Jerry Adams has advanced understanding of cancer development, particularly of genes activated by chromosome translocation in lymphomas. By clarifying how the Bcl-2 protein family controls the life and death of cells, he and his colleagues at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research have galvanised the development of a promising new class of anti-cancer drugs. Jerry was awarded the 2014 Macfarlane Burnet Medal. Continue reading Australian Academy of Science medals

Could your lab have the next antibiotic?

Could your newly synthesised molecule kill a superbug? Matt Cooper can tell you.

His team is offering a free screening service for the world’s chemists to test their compounds against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, helping them to potentially find a new antibiotic that will fight the rise of these ‘superbugs’.

“We’re helping the community unlock the hidden value of these chemicals,” says Matt, whose team is from the Community for Open Antimicrobial Drug Discovery (CO-ADD), a not-for-profit, global initiative of The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience. The screening began in February 2015, and Matt has already received thousands of samples from locations including India, Singapore, New Zealand, France, Israel, UK and the USA.

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Insulin in a plant seed

An edible plant seed could deliver your insulin or cancer drugs if David Craik’s research progresses as hoped. His team’s work at The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience centres on cyclotides, which are a family of exceptionally stable circular proteins that occur naturally in many plants, such as violets and petunia.

Circular proteins naturally occuring in plants such as petunia have inspired David Craik’s research. Credit: The University of Queensland

Inspired by the stability and diversity of natural cyclotides, David’s team has developed a way to join the two ends of a linear protein, allowing them to create ‘designer’ cyclotides that can be incorporated into crop plants, turning them into production factories for therapeutic drugs and insecticides.

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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