Tag Archives: biology

Virtual management of the world’s oceans

New computer models are challenging the conventional wisdom in marine science.

Virtual management of the world’s oceans
Beth Fulton’s fisheries models are used all over the world. Credit: Istockphoto
These models have revealed for example that: large populations of jellyfish and squid indicate a marine ecosystem in trouble; not all fish populations increase when fishing is reduced—some species actually decline; and, sharks and tuna can use jellyfish as junk food to see them through lean periods.

The models were developed by the 2007 Science Minister’s Life Scientist of the Year, Dr Beth Fulton, a senior research scientist at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research in Hobart.
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Seeing fish through rocks

Dr Kate Trinajstic has used synchrotron light and CT scanning to see through rock, in the process discovering how ancient fish developed teeth, jaws and even a womb. Her work is increasing our understanding of how life on Earth evolved.

Seeing fish through rocks
The winner of the 2010 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year, Kate Trinajstic. Credit: Ron D’Raine
About 380 million years ago in what is now the Kimberley Ranges in Western Australia, a vast barrier reef formed. In what would have been the inter-reef basins, large numbers of fish were buried relatively intact. Protective limestone balls formed around them and preserved them. When these balls are treated with acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, the surrounding rock dissolves, leaving only fossilised fish bones.

But in the course of studying hundreds of these dissolving balls, Kate began to see what looked like muscle fibres between the bones. She was eventually able to convince her colleagues that irreplaceable soft tissue detail was being lost in the acid treatments.
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Back to the future for father of biotechnology

He’s back in the lab, working to convert the rich supply of stem cells found in the nose into specialised products to repair nerve damage or replace nerve cells lost in disorders such as hearing loss, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Back to the future for father of biotechnology
John Shine, winner of the 2010 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. Credit: Bearcage Productions
But that’s just the latest phase in the full and distinguished life of the 2010 winner of Australia’s Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, molecular biologist Prof John Shine.

In 2011, he is stepping down after more than 20 years as executive director of Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research which, under his guidance, has grown to a staff of more than 500, an annual budget of $50 million, and now boasts significant achievements in cancer, immunology, diabetes and obesity, osteoporosis and neuroscience.
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Skin deep discovery reveals immune mysteries

Cells involved in the first line of our immune defence have been located where they never have been found before—a discovery that could provide insight into diseases like psoriasis and other auto-immune conditions of the skin.

A stain showing the presence of gamma delta T cells (green) in the dermis. The blood vasculature is shown in red, while blue represent collagen. Credit: Centenary Institute
A stain showing the presence of gamma delta T cells (green) in the dermis. The blood vasculature is shown in red, while blue represent collagen. Credit: Centenary Institute

While researchers have known about these cells, called gamma delta T cells in the epidermis or top layer of skin for more than 20 years, this is the first time their presence has been detected in the next layer of skin down, the dermis.

Wolfgang Weninger, who led the study at Sydney’s Centenary Institute, says that gamma delta T cells are of particular interest because they produce a protein thought to be the ‘first responder’ when intruders are detected by the immune system.

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Stopping parasite means more, safer meat

The world’s meat production could be lifted by 10 to 15 per cent if a vaccine can be found to combat the liver fluke.

Stopping parasite means more, safer meat
Juvenile liver fluke parasites which cause serious disease in livestock and humans. Credit: D Piedrafita (Monash); T Spithill (La Trobe).
This is the aim of a collaborative bioscience group at the new $288 million Centre for AgriBioscience (AgriBio).

An effective vaccine against liver fluke could not only boost meat production but would also lead to a large reduction in the amount of drugs given to livestock, says Prof Terry Spithill, who is co-director of AgriBio and based at La Trobe University.
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Body’s power plants offer clues to Parkinson’s disease

How do the power plants of the cell—the mitochondria—use their defence mechanisms to fight diseases such as Parkinson’s disease? This debilitating disorder is caused by an accumulation of proteins that have folded incorrectly.

The body’s power plant mitochondria. Credit: Istockphoto.
The body’s power plant mitochondria. Credit: Istockphoto.

The misfolded proteins then clump together and form sticky, cell-damaging deposits called plaques.

“We know that mitochondria are at the centre of the aging process,” says Prof Nick Hoogenraad, executive director of the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS). Nick and his team have found a mechanism mitochondria use to remove the plaques that are prone to form as we age.

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Life’s work closer to saving lives

What began decades ago as the discovery of an antibody from mice that targets human cancer cells is now undergoing human trials in the US as the basis of a treatment for acute leukaemia.

Life’s work may end up saving lives
Professor Andrew Boyd, who has seen his antibody discovery incorporated into a potential cancer treatment. Credit: QIMR
The antibody targets a protein called EphA3, which is found in about half of all acute leukaemias as well as many other human cancers including a significant proportion of malignant melanomas, brain tumours and lung cancers. The antibody, called KB004, has been shown to kill certain types of cancerous tumours grown from human samples.
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Fresh Science 2010

Each year we identify early-career scientists with a discovery and bring them to Melbourne for a communication boot camp. Here are some of their stories.

More at www.freshscience.org.au

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens

Print your own lasers, lights and TV screens
Jacek Jasieniak sprinkling quantum dots. Credit: Jacek Jasieniak

Imagine printing your own room lighting, lasers, or solar cells from inks you buy at the local newsagent. Jacek Jasieniak and colleagues at CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and the University of Padua in Italy, have developed liquid inks based on quantum dots that can be used to print such devices and in the first demonstration of their technology have produced tiny lasers. Quantum dots are made of semiconductor material grown as nanometre-sized crystals, around a millionth of a millimetre in diameter. The laser colour they produce can be selectively tuned by varying their size.

Cling wrap captures CO2
Colin Scholes operates a test rig for his carbon capture membrane. Credit: CO2 CRC

Cling wrap captures CO2

High tech cling wraps that ‘sieve out’ carbon dioxide from waste gases can help save the world, says Melbourne University chemical engineer, Colin Scholes who developed the technology. The membranes can be fitted to existing chimneys where they capture CO2 for removal and storage. Not only are the new membranes efficient, they are also relatively cheap to produce. They are already being tested on brown coal power stations in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, Colin says. “We are hoping these membranes will cut emissions from power stations by up to 90 per cent.”

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Could we grow drugs using sunflowers?

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.

The precursor, a small ring-like protein fragment known as SFTI, has already shown potential as a cancer treatment. Until now, however, it has been considered too expensive to produce by conventional means.
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Plastic not fantastic for seabirds

Seabirds on one of Australia’s remotest islands have plastic in their stomachs.

Plastic not fantastic for seabirds
A flesh-footed shearwater surveys the contents of its stomach Credit: Ian Hutton

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.

Only six of more than 200 nests visited contained chicks. The overall population is plummeting.
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