A project to produce more than double the number of galaxy distance measurements than all other previous surveys, could lead to an explanation of one of nature’s biggest mysteries—whether dark energy, an invisible force that opposes gravity, has remained constant or changed since the beginning of time.
Baker’s yeast could soon be turning sugar cane into jet fuel. Dr Claudia Vickers from the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at the University of Queensland leads a team studying strains which already produce ethanol, industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
The researchers want to use the yeast strains S. cerevisiae to make isoprenoids, chemicals traditionally used to make pharmaceuticals and food additives, but which can also serve as fuel.
The idea is to give the yeast new functions, so they can consume sucrose from cane sugar and produce isoprenoid products, which can be used to replace or supplement traditional jet fuel, without modifying existing aircraft engines or infrastructure.
Claudia’s lab was originally looking at the gut bacteria E. coli, which could also be used to produce isoprenoids, but the yeast is now looking more promising.
Other research groups at The University of Queensland and James Cook University are looking to develop aviation fuel from algae and the oilseed tree Pongamia, both of which can be grown without competing with traditional food crops for land or water.
The University’s sustainable aviation fuel initiative has attracted several backers including Boeing, Virgin Australia, Mackay Sugar, Brisbane-based IOR Energy, and the US-based green energy company Amyris. It is funded by the Queensland State Government.
Photo: Dr Claudia Vickers is leading a team looking at modifying baker’s yeast to make aviation fuel.
Drivers of trucks, dozers, graders and excavators at Australian mines could soon be saved from the risks of fatigue by their headgear.
Incidents on mine sites caused by tiredness are a significant cause of injuries and deaths, and cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production and accidents each year. So Dr Daniel Bongers at the Cooperative Research Centre for Mining (CRCMining) in Brisbane has invented a SmartCap, fitted with sophisticated sensors which can “read” the brain’s nerve activity through hair and detect the level of fatigue of the wearer.
A Parkinson patient who can walk again, and improved life for people with the behavioural disorder known as Tourette syndrome.
These are two of the results of a partnership between University of Queensland neurologist Prof Peter Silburn and neurosurgeon Dr Terry Coyne who have ventured deeper into the human brain than anyone else in the world.
Peter treats patients at St. Andrew’s Hospital in Brisbane using deep brain stimulation, a technique that uses electrodes to stimulate a region some 12 centimetres under the surface of the brain.
“There are 100 billion neurons in the brain and we can’t restore all of them. But the deep brain is like a telephone exchange—by stimulating this one section of the brain, you can unblock the flow of messages,” Peter says.
Continue reading Parkinson answers deep in the brain
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.
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.
Continue reading Life’s work closer to saving lives
Four of Australia’s most accomplished scientists have been elected to the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, the Royal Society of London.
Prof Ian Frazer, Prof Alan Cowman, Prof Mark Randolph and Dr Patrick Tam join 40 other scientists to be elected to the Royal Society in 2011, which celebrated its 350th anniversary last year.
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
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.
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.”
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.
Continue reading Could we grow drugs using sunflowers?
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.
The first Australian trials have started of a vaccine to prevent koalas from contracting and spreading the deadly sexually transmitted disease, chlamydia.
The trials—supervised by Prof Peter Timms and Prof Ken Beagley from Queensland University of Technology (QUT)’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation—have been undertaken safely both in healthy koalas and koalas that already have chlamydial disease. All vaccinated koalas developed a good immune response to the anti-chlamydia vaccine, which shows great promise of making a significant impact on the disease in the near future.
Chlamydia is a major threat to the continued survival of koalas. Almost all populations in Australia are affected by the disease. It is a significant cause of infertility, urinary tract infections, and inflammation in the lining of the eye which often leads to blindness.
Koala numbers are declining across virtually its whole range. In the Koala Coast region of southeast Queensland in 2008 it was estimated that 2332 koalas had been lost in a three-year monitoring period. That represented a 51 per cent decrease.
By studying chlamydial disease in koalas, QUT researchers hope to understand the condition better in general. They believe their work may also hold the key to developing a successful vaccine for use against the human sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia trachomatis, a major cause of infertility in women.