Blog Biology 11 December 2017
The Australian native tobacco plant, Nicotinia benthamiana.
The Australian native tobacco plant, Nicotinia benthamiana.

Novel tobacco plant varieties may prove to be a veritable cornucopia of cures.

The $10.5 million project, called Newcotiana, sees Queensland University of Technology scientists join a large European collaboration. Its purpose is to develop a toolkit of plant breeding techniques using the genome of the native Australian tobacco plant (Nicotinia benthamiana) as a template.

These techniques will be used to develop strains of tobacco plants that will serve as ‘biofactories’, producing tailored proteins and molecules for use in pharmaceuticals.

Peter Waterhouse, one of the lead researchers, has already sequenced 85% of the 60,000 genes making up the native tobacco plant. He plans to demystify the rest through the highly advanced gene sequencing equipment and assembling technologies afforded by this project. The research team will share the information through an open source website, opening up a realm of possibilities for research and medicine.

Blog Technology 11 December 2017
Can the blockchain guarantee the provenance of meat?
Can the blockchain guarantee the provenance of meat?
Jean-Francois Noblet / Getty

Ever wonder exactly where that delicious steak on your plate came from? Well, now you can find out —thanks to a new food research project called BeefLedger announced by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

The purpose of this endeavour is to track beef, so that consumers in far off lands can rest assured that the beef they are eating came from fine Australian cows.

The project uses the BeefLedger Token or BLT, a digital cryptocurrency, which works on blockchain technology. It enables farmers, butchers, restaurant owners and beef-lovers to participate in the project and track meat through the entire supply chain simply by scanning the barcode or QR code on the product.

Consumers are provided with a wealth of information, including certified data on origin, health, and sale history; which, in turn guarantees the price, safety and quality of the beef.

All this to prevent food fraud, price hikes and ensure food safety, so that inferior meat is not passed off as Australian. The venture will be particularly beneficial in protecting and promoting the reputation of regional suppliers that depend on maintaining a strong reputation for their produce.

So, if you want to find out more about ensuring that your steak is a cut above the rest, visit the website.

Blog Society 06 December 2017
A new study hopes to find new connections between maternal and infant health.
A new study hopes to find new connections between maternal and infant health.
Tuan Tran / Getty

Calling all would-be mothers: the University of Sydney is seeking participants for an ambitious intergenerational research study called BABY1000. Beginning before conception and running until the child is 1000 days old, the study will examine the aetiology of disorders like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in a new way.

The project, led by Adrienne Gordon, will look outside the proverbial box for the causes of these conditions. The researchers will observe how pre-conception and pregnancy health factors - like weight, smoking habits and nutrition - affect the future health of the child. All the information gathered will be used to devise early interventions to prevent the transmission of various diseases from generation to generation.

This ambitious undertaking, which involves the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital at the Charles Perkins Centre, is currently inviting mothers who are less than 13 weeks pregnant or those who are planning a pregnancy to join and help safeguard the health of future generations. To find out how you could be involved, click here.

Blog Biology 06 December 2017
The penguins of Melbourne Zoo played a vital role in the research.
The penguins of Melbourne Zoo played a vital role in the research.
Zoos Victoria

The number of seabirds killed annually by encounters with trawlers could be dramatically reduced by simply changing the colour of fishing nets, according to new research. And the little penguins from Australia’s Melbourne Zoo played a big role in helping bring this about.

Scientists from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), the University of Tasmania and Zoos Victoria teamed up to test a variety of coloured nets – green, orange and clear – in the penguin pool at the Melbourne Zoo.

They found that the penguins collided with the orange nets much less often than they did with the green and clear nets. This showed that penguins could detect the orange nets from a distance and avoid swimming into and being caught in them.

Penguins are just one species of bird affected by fishing gillnets. With 400,000 seabirds killed worldwide very year, this research may be a step towards finding a solution to the problem of bycatch.

The next step would be trialling these different coloured nets out at sea, and working with industry partners to potentially change fishing practices.

The research, led by Roshan Hanamseth, is described in a paper in the journal Aquatic Conservation.

Blog Society 04 December 2017
A panel discussion on the intersection between politics and science, featuring speakers from the Public Service, business and a leading Australian professional society
Science & Technology Australia

Every year Science & Technology Australia (STA) bring together over 200 STEM professionals to promote and discuss the role of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in politics at their Science meets Parliament event.

The 2018 chapter is fast approaching, due to be held in early February, where attendees will get the chance to build a profile for their work as we approach another federal election.

Science meets Parliament has a strong tradition of fostering relationships and understanding between STEM professionals and politicians since its inception in 1999, and is one of STA’s key projects that works toward a strong future for the nation’s science and technology.

Who is STA?

Before the 1980s there was a notable lack of public support and promotion for the science and technology industries. To help combat this and bring STEM issues into the limelight, a group of Australian bodies including the Australian Academy of Science, the Australian Institute of Physics and the Australian Computer Society came together to form the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS).

After years of advocating for science and technology in our society, FASTS became known as Science & Technology Australia (STA) in 2011 to better reflect its members and its work.

Today, STA is a respected and influential contributor to debate on public policy, and works hard to represent Australian science and technology both now and in the future.

They do this by focusing on four key areas - connecting with business to address commercial obstacles to STEM projects; fostering collaboration when facing common research and development issues; empowering STEM professionals by offering a range of workshops and events; and connecting with politics through regular submissions to government.

Science meets Parliament touches on all of these areas of expertise to give science and technology professionals a voice in parliament and a say in the future of STEM issues in...

Blog Biology 01 December 2017
World AIDS Day is commemorated across the planet.
World AIDS Day is commemorated across the planet.
lvcandy / Getty Images

Today – December 1 – is World AIDS Day, observed around the world to focus attention on the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The first recognised cases of AIDs were reported in the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on June 5, 1981. The illness, undefined at that point, was labelled pneumocystis pneumonia.

Today’s MMWR reports that there are currently about 36.7 million people living with HIV infection, including 1.8 million diagnosed during 2016. Despite a drop in the AIDS-related death rate of almost 50% since 2005, the disease claimed one million lives in the last full calendar year.

The fight against the virus continues, with 19.5 million people receiving antiretroviral medication in 2016 – up more than two million on the previous year.

For Australian readers, World AIDS Day events are being held around the country today. A full list can be found here.

Blog Geoscience 01 December 2017
The latest from the CSIRO, just in time for Xmas.
The latest from the CSIRO, just in time for Xmas.

Oceans, a new book published by the CSIRO, celebrates the spectacular waters that surround Australia and tells of the work that is being done to preserve them.

Edited by Bruce Mapstone, the book takes you through our vast oceanic territory, the third largest in the world, straddling three oceans and stretching from the tropics to the Antarctic.

It details how we interact with the marine environment, through fishing, shipping and recreational activities. It also tells of some of the greatest threats and challenges facing our oceans, due to pollution and climate change. Mapstone’s writers cover decades of CSIRO collaborative research and innovation aimed at developing a holistic picture of this precious resource, and to advance marine conservation efforts.

This book makes an engaging and enlightening read, whether you are a policy maker, marine science buff or just someone who wants to know more about that ocean you’ve been swimming in since you were a kid.

Secure your e-book or hard copy via the CSIRO website and be amazed.

Blog Biology 01 December 2017
The new Wiener supercomputer adds stunning detail to microscopic imagery.
The new Wiener supercomputer adds stunning detail to microscopic imagery.
Queensland Brain Institute

The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), at the University of Queensland (UQ) is working away to build a state-of-the-art supercomputer, the first of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region. This behemoth will be up and running by February 2018, poised to help researchers study the wiring of the brain to better understand various disorders.

The machine is dubbed the Wiener, after Norbert Wiener, the mathematician who formulated noise-cancelling algorithms for making images clearer. Cleaning out of noise, or blurriness encountered in a number of biological images, such as those of motile cells or microorganisms is time consuming and labour intensive.

This is where the supercomputer comes in; it is capable of processing immense quantities of ‘noisy’ high-resolution images and turning them into something sharp. This will deliver usable data to scientists faster than ever before. With its high processing speed and power, this machine will be a huge boon to many research institutes at the UQ, such as the Institute for Molecular Biosciences (IMB) and the Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis (CMM). This will certainly translate in to major research gains that may have the potential to change lives.

Blog Biology 30 November 2017
Victoria is aiming to gather health information for every baby born in a two year period.
Victoria is aiming to gather health information for every baby born in a two year period.
Nazar Abbas Photography

Parents of all babies born in the Australian state of Victoria between 2020 and 2022 will be invited to participate in a world-first experimental ecosystem called Generation V, or Gen V for short. The individuals enrolled in this mammoth data repository will contribute health information that will be used to combat the many physical ailments and mental health problems affecting children and adults.

The $25 million Gen V project is a joint venture between researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the Paul Ramsay Foundation and the state’s Labour government. The innovative research concept will be carried out over five years. All the data collected will work towards tracking, predicting and eventually preventing common conditions in adults, such as obesity and diabetes, as well as autism and asthma in children. The information will also be extrapolated to the education system, benefiting the ways children are taught and working to level education opportunities so that no child gets left behind.

Albeit a herculean and ambitious undertaking, it will undoubtedly have far reaching implications for the future health and wellbeing of all Victorians and, perhaps, all Australians. If you would like to give your future progeny the opportunity to be part of an historic and unique initiative, learn more here.

Blog Biology 29 November 2017
A single neuron inside a rat's brain -- one of the images in contention in QBI people's choice award for photography.
A single neuron inside a rat's brain -- one of the images in contention in QBI people's choice award for photography.

Science and art collide to produce a stunning showcase of images, which are the final entries in this year’s Art in Neuroscience contest, organised by the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI).

In its tenth year, this unique competition highlights pictures taken by students, researchers and technical staff from the Institute’s neuroscience laboratories. In the past, the images have gone on to grace the covers of leading science journals such as Nature.

The contest will afford you a snapshot, both literal and metaphorical, into the work that goes on at QBI, which is based at the University of Queensland. The 50 entries were narrowed down to just 10 by judges from the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art and the university’s own art museum.

The images vary in their versatility and impact. A photograph of the tau protein, which does such ugly things to the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, looks paradoxically beautiful. A singular neuron looks like an exotic creature from the depths of the ocean.

So, have your say in the QBI people’s choice competition, which is on now. You stand a chance to win your favourite print.

If that's piqued your interest and you want to marvel at more images, click here.

The next issue of Cosmos magazine is dedicated to exploring the intersection between art and science, and features interviews with many leading practitioners in both fields. In stores in January, subscribe today or request a pre-order here.