Tag Archives: Feature

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.

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Peptides to fight pain

A new approach to the global chronic pain problem

Chronic pain affects around 20 per cent of the world’s population at any one time. It is the most common reason people seek medical help in Australia. Chronic pain often goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression.

Short chains of amino acids—known as peptides—may offer hope. A collaboration between neurobiologists at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health at The University of Melbourne and CNRS units affiliated with the Universities of Bordeaux and Strasbourg has made significant progress towards an entirely new approach to treating pain.

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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

Planetary changes

Discovering our changing planet: a perfect France–Australia partnership

Professor Kurt Lambeck is one of Australia’s most eminent scientists—a geophysicist who revealed how the Earth changes shape and how these changes are tied to sea levels, the movement of continents, and the orbits of satellites. Vital to his career have been French collaborations that now span almost half a century.

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Mission design at rocket speed

Planning space missions is traditionally a time-consuming and costly process. But the new Australian National Concurrent Design Facility (ANCDF), housed at UNSW’s Canberra campus, speeds things up so a mission can be planned in weeks rather than months.

Harnessing the expertise, design processes and software of the French Space Agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales), the UNSW team has created Australia’s first concurrent design facility.

The ANCDF allows engineers and scientists—both professionals and students—to design different parts of a mission in parallel rather than one after the other, which is the traditional approach.

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Creating living cell factories

“We make bacteria do amazing things.”

Researchers at the University of Adelaide and the Pasteur Institute in France are creating biological factories within cells to make and detect molecules for a wide range of uses in health, environmental monitoring and industry.

Synthetic biology—the application of engineering principles to build new biological parts, circuits and devices—has been used to build tumour-killing bacteria, for example, and has great potential for green chemistry that uses fermentation rather than petrochemicals.

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Water for life

Changing how communities think about water in Oceania

Water is a fundamental necessity of life, and managing water—who uses it and how—is a key challenge in developing countries.

Decisions about how to use scarce freshwater for drinking, agriculture, industry, and the environment can lead to conflict. In Oceania, this is often complicated by questions of who should make the decisions—governments, landholders, industry or others.

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Balloons over the Red Centre

A perfect view of the Milky Way

On a series of calm, cool mornings in April 2017, 70 French scientists (from the French space science agency CNES, CNRS IRAP, and the Université Paul Sabatier de Toulouse) launched three enormous balloons into the sky above the heart of Australia.

CNES was using the Alice Springs Balloon Launching Centre (ASBLS) to send three precision scientific instruments up to altitudes of 30–40 kilometres to make observations that are impossible from the ground.

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