Invasion of the grasses

Native grass Austrostipa scabra. Credit: Janusz Molinski/Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Native grass Austrostipa scabra. Credit: Janusz Molinski/Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

DNA barcodes could help farmers and conservationists identify wanted and unwanted grasses.

Identifying grasses is difficult especially when they’re not flowering. But identification is important. Australia’s agriculture and ecology are threatened by invading grasses, such as Chilean needle grass (Nassella neesiana) and serrated tussock (N. trichotoma). And efforts to re-introduce native grasses can be hampered if you can’t tell the grasses apart.

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Womb of life

Womb stem cells could help regenerate a diseased liver.
Womb stem cells could help regenerate a diseased liver.

What if the very thing that assists a fetus to grow in the womb could also prevent disease in a fully grown adult?

Monash Institute of Medical Research scientists have discovered that stem cells from the womb have the potential to treat inflammatory diseases such as lung fibrosis and liver cirrhosis in both children and adults.

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Reading the genome

Marnie Blewitt wants to understand how genes are controlled. Credit: Sam D’Agostino, SDP Photo
Marnie Blewitt wants to understand how genes are controlled. Credit: Sam D’Agostino, SDP Photo

Dr Marnie Blewitt wants to know how a human being is made: how does a single fertilised egg develop into an adult with millions of cells performing a myriad of different functions.

“How does a cell know which of its 30,000 or so genes should be active and which should be dormant?” says Marnie, a researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

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Two million containers—but how many pests?

Balancing the risks and benefits of trade and pests.
Balancing the risks and benefits of trade and pests.

Every visitor to Australia quickly learns that we take quarantine seriously. Our country is free of many pests, weeds and diseases that are widespread overseas. Our relative disease-freedom is good news for our people, for agriculture and for the environment.

Visitors’ luggage is screened at the airports. But what about the two million shipping containers that enter Australia each year? How do we strike a balance between open trade and quarantine?

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Are forests really the carbon sink we need?

Ivett_300x180Evidence is building to suggest that our forests may not be the climate change ‘get out jail free’ card we all want.

Australian Rivers Institute’s Assoc. Prof. Peter Pollard has researched rainforest lakes and rivers to test a provocative theory. The respiration of bacteria living and ‘breathing’ in these freshwater ecosystems is a major pathway for the return of rainforest carbon back to the atmosphere as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

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Algae that make biofuels and hydrogen

IMB_Ben_with_algaeAn Australian researcher is leading an international team of scientists developing a clean source of energy from microalgae. The team have developed one algae that not only makes oil for biodiesel production but also generates hydrogen. Commercial hydrogen production uses fossil fuels and produces carbon dioxide.

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Tiny particles could assist in breast cancer screening

These optically barcoded nanoparticles could transform cancer diagnosis.
These optically barcoded nanoparticles could transform cancer diagnosis.

Blood tests using nanoparticles carrying molecules which can detect breast cancer biomarkers could save millions of lives and open the way to mass screening for many cancers.

Prof. Matt Trau, of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering & Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland, and his team are using a combination of nanotechnology and molecular biology in the project, funded by a five-year $5 million grant from the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

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Detecting aircraft fatigue

TanyaMonro_300x180The only way to find out whether the internal structures of an aircraft are corroded is to pull the plane apart and look. But new nanotechnology-based techniques being developed by Prof. Tanya Monro, Director of University of Adelaide’s Centre of Expertise in Photonics, in collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, could make costly visual inspection in preventive aircraft maintenance a thing of the past.

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