An Australian invention is making it cheaper, quicker and safer to manufacture the radioactive tracers used in latest medical imaging techniques to track down increasingly smaller clusters of cancer cells.
Like preparing a cake in a mixing bowl, the chemical reactions to make the tracers involve putting the ingredients together in the right proportions. The next generation of tracers can have a more complex recipe—and so can be more difficult to produce using just one ‘mixing bowl’ at a time. Continue reading Two steps forward for cancer detection→
There’s a new diagnostic tool being developed to target melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer with which more than 10,000 Australians are diagnosed each year.
It’s a chemical compound designed to highlight small traces of these cancer cells in the body.
Melanoma occurs when the cells that make melanin, the dark pigment normally found in the skin, become cancerous. Melanoma cells often spread elsewhere in the body before the primary tumours are detected and removed surgically. Clusters of these melanoma cells can be hard to detect before they grow into tumours by which time they are often incurable. Continue reading Unmasking melanoma early→
We know more about the topography of Mars than that of Earth because 70 per cent of our planet is covered by water.
Now University of Sydney PhD student Kara Matthews has used satellite data and GPlates, a computer package developed at the University, to create a complete digital map of the many geological features of the seafloor.
Fracture zones—the orange lines in the accompanying image—are deep linear scars on the seafloor that extend perpendicular to the boundaries where tectonic plates are moving apart, revealing up to 150 million years of plate movement. They are accompanied by huge ridges on the seafloor, rising up to 2 km above the abyssal plains, and valleys as deep as 8 km below sea level. Continue reading Mapping the seafloor from space→
Researchers in the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney have developed a computer package that lets scientists record and study the Earth over geological time.
Their GPlates software, which they describe as “Google Earth with a time-slider,” contains powerful tools for modelling geological processes. Yet it is simple enough to use in schools or at home, and is freely available. By combining data on continental motion, fossils and sediments, for example, scientists can analyse changes in geography, ocean currents and climate over geological time. Continue reading Slide back in time and see the Himalayas form→
Australian engineers and physicists have developed a ‘single electron reader’, one of the key building blocks needed to make a quantum computer.
Quantum computers will use the spin, or magnetic orientation, of individual electrons for their calculations. And, because of the quantum nature of electrons, quantum computers could be exponentially faster at certain tasks than traditional computers.
In order to employ electron spin, a quantum computer needs both a way of changing the spin state (writing information) and of measuring that change (reading information). Together these two form a quantum bit or qubit – the equivalent of the bit in a conventional computer. Continue reading Computing with a single electron→
Queensland researchers believe future cancer drugs could be grown in sunflowers and ultimately delivered as a seed ‘pill’.
They’re a long way from that outcome. But, as they reported to the XVIII International Botanical Congress in Melbourne earlier this year, they have already shown that sunflowers make a precursor to cancer drugs as part of their defence against insect attack.
Making cement is the third largest source of carbon emissions in the world after the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation—but the Australian roads of the future could be paved with cement that is made in a process that generates less than half the carbon emissions of traditional methods.
Each year, the world produces about 12 billion tonnes of concrete and about 1.6 billion tonnes of its key ingredient, Portland cement, which is generated by breaking calcium carbonate into carbon dioxide and calcium oxide.
This produces some 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide—so the Geopolymer and Mineral Processing Group (GMPG) at the University of Melbourne, now led by Dr John Provis, went looking for a lower carbon way of making cement.
They have now developed binders and concretes based on a low-CO2 aluminosilicate compounds called geopolymers.
Seabirds on one of Australia’s remotest islands have plastic in their stomachs.
A recent survey found more than 95 per cent of the migratory flesh-footed shearwaters nesting on Lord Howe Island, between Australia and the northern tip of New Zealand, had swallowed plastic garbage.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, plastic has been shown to bind poisonous pollutants. As a result, some shearwaters were found with concentrations of mercury more than 7,000 times the level considered toxic.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are supporting the efforts of Queensland University of Technology scientists to design a better banana.
The researchers have already added provitamin A—a compound the body converts to Vitamin A—to the East African Highland banana. Now they are working to boost the iron content of the cooking banana that is a staple food of Uganda.
Led by Prof James Dale, director of University’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, the researchers are working with the Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organisation to modify the bananas genetically to raise their micronutrient levels, and then develop disease-resistant strains to distribute to East African farmers. The research is being funded by a $10-million grant from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health Program.
James and his team developed efficient technology for raising nutrient levels in Cavendish bananas through to field trials in Queensland and then transferred it to Uganda. Ugandan scientists are now using these methods to modify East African Highland bananas genetically to increase their biosynthesis of provitamin A and their accumulation of iron.
Part of the project includes ensuring Ugandans will accept the new fruit, which has deep yellow flesh, thanks to the addition of the Vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene.
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