L’Astrolabe opens up Antarctica

For French and Australian explorers

Without the help of icebreaking ships, all-terrain vehicles and tough machinery, most Antarctic science could not happen. The French ship L’Astrolabe is a crucial facility for scientists exploring the Earth’s climate, oceans, atmosphere and ecology.

Every year, the ship and its crew, managed by the French Navy for the Institut polaire français Paul-Émile Victor (IPEV) from Hobart, support approximately 50 French and international scientific projects based out of the French stations Dumont d’Urville and Concordia. L’Astrolabe also transports food, supplies, logistics officers and scientists to and from the Australian Antarctic Division’s base on Macquarie Island.

Continue reading L’Astrolabe opens up Antarctica

Cancer, maths and evolution

Shifting the cancer battleground

 A new French-Australian joint cancer laboratory is forging a new way to study cancer by joining experts from different fields including mathematics, cell biology, evolutionary biology, and behavioural ecology.

Cancer is not only a major cause of human death worldwide, but also a disease that affects all multicellular organisms. Despite this, oncology and other biological sciences such as ecology and evolution have developed in relative isolation, according to Dr Beata Ujvari from the Roles of Cancer in Ecology and Evolution International Associated Laboratory at Deakin University. 

“We know that there is a clear reciprocal interaction between malignant cells and their hosts, with malignant cells evolving in response to the organism’s defence mechanisms,” Beata says.

“Cancer also directly and indirectly impacts the physiology, immunology and behaviour of organisms. But very little is actually known of the evolutionary impact of these complex relationships. We are changing that with this type of research, which has rarely been explored before,” Beata says.

The goal is to transform the understanding of cancer, its origin, how to halt its progression, and to prevent therapeutic failures. At the same time, the role of cancer in ecosystem functioning is something that ecologists need to consider.

Researchers say that cancer’s impact on ecosystems could be significant. It can influence an individual’s competitive and dispersal abilities, susceptibility to pathogens and vulnerability to predation. In some cases, such as the facial tumour disease that afflicts Tasmanian devils, it can heavily impact a species.

The joint laboratory is a collaboration between: Dr Frederic Thomas of the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Cancer Research at the National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS) in France; Deakin University; and the University of Tasmania, Australia. In Australia, the team has partnered with the Tasmanian Government’s Save the Tasmanian Devil Program and Zoos Victoria.

Banner image : Cancer can have a significant impact on species – such as the Tasmanian devil – and even whole ecosystems. Credit: JJ Harrison

Spying on the denizens of the Southern Ocean

Sonar and satellites reveal the fish and other creatures that live far below the surface

The depths of the ocean still hold great mysteries. At depths between 200 and 1000 metres live creatures that, taken altogether, weigh as much as 10 billion tonnes.

Rudy Kloser, an expert on echo sounding and deep-sea ecosystems at CSIRO in Hobart, says these creatures are vital but poorly understood.

Continue reading Spying on the denizens of the Southern Ocean

Australian Science Prizes 2016

Clunies Ross Awards

Dr Elaine Saunders has made premium hearing aids more affordable and easier to use. She and her team have built on Australia’s bionic ear technologies to create a system where you can: test your hearing online; buy your hearing aid online and receive it set up ready for you; and adjust the hearing aid with your smartphone while you’re at the pub, dancing, or watching TV.

Credit: Blamey Saunders

Continue reading Australian Science Prizes 2016

Fishing for food security

Local fishermen in Indonesia are catching less fish. Whatever the reason, it is a significant problem for those who live on small islands in particular, as fish make up about 90 per cent of the protein they eat.

A team of Indonesian and Australian social scientists is looking at how communities adapt to these changes.

Initially, in a pilot project study financed by the Australia Indonesia Centre, the researchers are examining whether there is a link between fishing productivity and feelings of food insecurity in the small islands off Kai Kecil, and if so, whether a weakening of local management of fish populations and a rise in intercommunity conflicts over fish resources play a role.

Continue reading Fishing for food security

Exploring the mystery of the oceans

Australia and Japan are both island nations with vast maritime reserves and responsibilities. Together we’re developing the science needed to understand, use, enjoy and protect our unique marine ecosystems. And we’re collaborating to solve some of the mysteries of the ocean systems that drive the world’s climate.

Attack of the giant starfish

The waters off Japan’s tropical Okinawa Islands are home to hundreds of species of coral. The reefs attract a rich diversity of life: fish, turtles, whale sharks, and… the crown-of-thorns starfish.

Five thousand kilometres to the south is the Great Barrier Reef—the world’s largest reef system and one of the richest and most diverse natural ecosystems on Earth. The Australian Government is committed to protecting the Reef and has developed a plan to 2050 to ensure the sustainability of the Reef. But the Reef has lost half its coral cover in the past 30 years and periodic plagues of crown-of-thorns are responsible for more than forty per cent of the coral loss. Continue reading Exploring the mystery of the oceans