Blog Biology 29 January 2018
Adult polycystic kidney disease isn't very pretty.
Adult polycystic kidney disease isn't very pretty.
Dr Gopi Rangan

Could good old H2O be the key to treating an incurable, common and potentially fatal genetic kidney disease affecting thousands? A team of researchers from the Westmead Hospital and the Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, hope that a pioneering national clinical trial will reveal answers.

Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is an inherited condition caused by mutations in proteins responsible for the normal structure and function of the key units – nephrons – that make up the blood filtration system of the kidney. The disease manifests in the form of an enlarged, dysfunctional kidney due to cyst formation, which begins in early childhood and accelerates throughout adulthood, requiring dialysis or transplants to survive.

The methodology for the current trial— called PREVENT-ADKPD— has been published in the journal BMJ Open, described by a team led by Annette Wong.

The randomised study involves using a formula to prescribe the correct volume of water to be consumed every day. Wong and colleagues hypothesise that increased hydration will act to suppress a hormone called vasopressin, which has been linked to cyst growth and the destruction of healthy kidney tissue.

Patients in the treatment arm will self-monitor their water consumption using a diary or an app, and will be supported along the way. Participants will be followed up regularly for three years, and undergo various tests including MRIs to assess kidney function.

The researchers are hopeful that this trial may yield the first viable, safe and inexpensive treatment for ADPKD. Recruitment began in December 2015 at various private hospitals across the Australian state of New South Wales, and is in its last leg.

If you know of anyone who could possibly benefit from participating in this study, enrolments close on February 28. The study team can be contacted via email:

Blog Climate 29 January 2018

Author Paul Hawken, who will be a guest at the ANU event.
Author Paul Hawken, who will be a guest at the ANU event.
Beck Starr / Contributor / Getty Images

The Australian National University (ANU), based in Canberra, in conjunction with Bank Australia, invites you to attend a free public lecture on February 20, at its main campus in Acton, about a project called Drawdown — touted as the most thorough plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.

The lecture will be delivered by Paul Hawken, the founder of Project Drawdown, a non-profit, independent organisation with a global reach, and the editor of the New York Times bestseller by the same name.

Hawken’s repertoire spans author and ecologically conscious businessman. He has spent years advising businesses and governments on environmental policy. He will be joined by a panel of public policy and science experts from ANU.

Drawdown itself is a unique consortium, which includes scientists, students, policy makers and business leaders, all of whom are working together to find and enact sustainable and impactful solutions to climate change.

The lecture will discuss the issues presented in Hawken’s book, and relate these to the social, economic and environmental effects that Australia is facing due to climate change.

There will be opportunity for audience participation by way of a Q&A, with drinks and refreshments to follow. To register for this event, click here.

Blog Biology 25 January 2018
University of Queensland graduate Emma Sievwright, out of her lab coat and into her apron.
University of Queensland graduate Emma Sievwright, out of her lab coat and into her apron.
Nick Wilson/Foxtel

What makes a perfect baker? Is it following the recipe diligently, letting your creative genius run wild, or the sublime art of balancing the two?

Emma Sievwright may have the answer. The recent honours graduate from the University of Queensland, Australia, is looking to combine her methodical scientific nature with her love and flair for baking on the third season of the hit Foxtel TV series, The Great Australian Bake Off, which pits amateur bakers against one another. After pioneering in the UK, the Bake Off format proved to be popular in several countries, including Australia.

Asked what drew her to baking, Emma says, “I always enjoyed baking as a kid with my mum and my grandma, and I have always loved knowing how things work, so I really believe that science fits into baking.”

This came in handy when she was particularly stressed during her studies in human biomedical anatomy; she turned to baking to help ease the anxiety. Emma is the youngest contestant in the series. She will draw on her innate scientific nature in hopes of attaining that perfectly baked balance, combining a willingness to experiment with a healthy serve of tried and tested recipes.

Emma and the other contenders will showcase their skills and acumen in front of celebrity chefs Maggie Beer and Matt Moran, all for the honour of being crowned winner—no cash prize awaits them at the finish line.

Blog Climate 17 January 2018
The hunt is on outstanding climate change activists.
The hunt is on outstanding climate change activists.
Tobias Titz/Getty Images

The organisers of the premier Australian gathering of climate scientists and advocates — Climate Adaptation (CA) 2018 —have issued a call for nominations for this year’s Climate Adaptation Champions. The conference, set to take place in the Australian city of Melbourne from May 8 to 10, is a collaborative effort between the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) and Engineers Australia.

Nominations fall into four broad categories — individual, community, business, and government. So, if you know of a teacher, neighbourhood group, local store or non-government association working tirelessly to spread the word about the need for climate adaptation, now is the time to act.

Nominate your champion by February 28 to help promote innovative and ingenious ways to tackle the impact of climate change.

The winners will have their registration and travel costs covered for the conference, where they will be presented their awards. The event will see many national and international speakers share their expertise. Attendees will hear keynote addresses from Mark Crosweller, director-general of Emergency Management Australia, and Hallie Eakin, a senior lecturer at Arizona University whose work ranges from consultation with the World Bank to working for the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Climate scientists wishing to make a presentation at the event still have time to apply. Abstracts should be submitted by February 2.

To find out how to register, click here.

Blog Technology 16 January 2018
Chinese social media platform WeChat hosts a fresh and vibrant science publication.
Chinese social media platform WeChat hosts a fresh and vibrant science publication.
studioEAST/Getty Images

The announcement of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s 2018 EurekAlert! Fellowships for International Science Reporters includes a couple of firsts for science writing – namely, acknowledging an app-only news service as a solid source of journalism, and including a Balkan writer among the winners.

Xiaoxue Chen, who publishes using the Chinese mobile app WeChat to get her work out to the public, has been recognised and rewarded for her work. Chen is the editor of The Intellectual, which is based in Beijing, China. WeChat boasts more than 938 million users.

Fellowship winner Juliana Photopoulos, based in Greece, is the first writer to be honoured for covering science in the Balkan region.

The EurekAlert! prizes are given to early career journalists from emerging economies to acknowledge their contributions and help forward their work by enabling them to attend the AAAS annual meeting, which this year will be held in Austin, Texas in the US in February.

The other journalists recognised include two from India – Aayushi Pratap and Vijay Shankar Balakrishnan – whose coverage includes tackling health issues in the subcontinent.

Blog Chemistry 11 January 2018
The Leaf.
The Leaf.
Ji Soo Lee, Mac.Robertson High Girls School

While the latest issue of Cosmos magazine features the works and words of some of the world’s best science-inspired artists, we’re also inspired by the educational possibilities of the intersection of science and art. At one high school in the Australian city of Melbourne a unit called “Chemists as Artists” has students produce a piece of art representing their personal experience of science.

In doing so students at Mac.Robertson Girls' High School are expected to both understand chemical concepts and to view the world through a ‘chemistry lens’. “Chemistry is not something that occurs only in a laboratory,” says program coordinator Fiona Donohue. “We wanted our students to develop the skills to think creatively about our world and our place in it and be able to engage others with that way of thinking by expressing their ideas about science through art.

The above featured artwork – The Leaf, ceramic, by Year 9 student Ji Soo Lee – is a fine demonstration of what can result: “Many different chemical processes were required into making this art piece, including oxidation and bisque firing clay,” Lee explains. “Oxidation was needed to turn chromite into chromium(III) oxide, a green pigment used for making paint. Polar molecules were a part of this piece as water is a polar molecule and the pigment needed to be dissolved in it. Because polar molecules only mix with other polar molecules and ionic compounds, the ionic compound chromium (III) oxide was able to dissolve in it. Bisque firing, meanwhile, must allow for a slow build-up of heat, which is why it may take days to complete.”

Here are a few other outcomes from the class of 2017, explained in the words of their creators.

The Robin.
The Robin.
Sara Ahmad, Mac.Robertson High Girls School

The Robin, watercolour, by Sara Ahmad

It is quite amazing when you dive deeper into the chemistry behind watercolour painting.The water and the paint react together, mingling with weak bonds. Water is a polar substance,...

Blog Technology 10 January 2018
A page from Michael Milford's forthcoming AI guide for preschoolers.
A page from Michael Milford's forthcoming AI guide for preschoolers.
QUT Media

Queensland University of Technology robotics professor Michael Milford is creating the world’s first guide to artificial intelligence (AI) for preschool children, and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund it.

All through his career in education and robotics, Milford found plenty of information for high school children or adults. But while attempting to explain concepts involving AI to his own young children, he realised there was a dearth of resources.

Given that the current generation’s future will be inextricably intertwined with AI technologies, he saw a need for them to understand key scientific concepts and even potential problems related to introducing AI into their daily lives.

This spurred him to develop The Complete Guide to Artificial Intelligence for Kids, a comprehensive, easy-to-digest, fully illustrated book for very young children.

“One of the keys to making it accessible to kids was to simplify complex concepts without removing the core meaning,” he says. This includes using real-life examples to explain how AI makes decisions and actively learns.

Not only is this guide going to accessible in its content, but the aim is to also make it affordable.

“We’ve gone with a full-colour, 50-page mini-booklet rather than a more expensive hardcover book, so we can get the price down to as little as $1 per guide,” he says.

Milford’s Kickstarter target is a very modest $3000. To help him out, and secure a copy, click here.

Blog Biology 09 January 2018
A cat flea. Coming soon to a wild species near you.
A cat flea. Coming soon to a wild species near you.

A study led by the University of Queensland, Australia, has found that fleas from domestic pets are infesting numerous wildlife species globally, affecting animals on every continent except Antarctica.

The study looked at the distribution of two species of fleas – Ctenocephalides felis and C. canis – which favour cats and dogs, respectively, as hosts.

Led by Nicholas Clark and published in the journal Parasites & Vectors, the research findings illuminated the risk and magnitude of the transmission of pathogens carried by the insects from domestic to wild animals, and the potential hazards of continued, unchecked infections.

The authors built a comprehensive worldwide database to gauge the extent of interactions between the two flea species and wild hosts. They used statistical modelling to determine the risk factors of wildlife infestations, and they performed genetic analyses to ascertain whether fleas preferentially infect wild hosts closely related to their domestic ones.

The dataset revealed that the risk of flea infestation and the subsequent spread of diseases from domestic to wild animals was widespread in scale and geographical range. The main predictor of flea conveyance was the proximity between human and natural habitats.

Of greater concern was the finding that fleas could also be transferred to wild animals if they came in contact with feral animals such rats, foxes and rabbits. Interestingly, the evolutionary and genetic analyses indicated that the dog flea was more selective, infesting around 31 different wild mammalian species, whereas the cat flea was found on a broad variety of species — more than 130.

The researchers hope that the findings will show there is an urgent need for limiting contact between wild and domestic animals to stem the spread of dangerous infections and maintain the health of wild populations.

Blog The Future 22 December 2017
Happy Holidays – or should we say Hppy Holidys (we're making it a new thing).
Happy Holidays – or should we say Hppy Holidys (we're making it a new thing).
Cosmos Magazine

Here's some of our favourite print magazine content from 2017, collected for your reading pleasure:


Closing in on dark matterDogged physicists are methodically sweeping through all the places where the elusive particles may be hiding. Cathal O’Connell checks their progress.

Time to pop an anti-ageing pillIt’s no longer snake oil. Scientists have a pipeline full of promising anti-ageing compounds just waiting for human trials. Elizabeth Finkel reports.

Where will the next wave of space exploration take us?One epic period of space exploration has come to an end. Richard A. Lovett looks forward to the next.

The bad science of medical cannabisMillions of people use cannabis as a medicine. That’s not based on clinical evidence, nor do we know which of the hundreds of compounds in the plant is responsible for its supposed effects. Elizabeth Finkel reports.

The next generation of weapons against antibiotic-resistant superbugsFor the past 70 years, antibiotics have given us the upper hand against microbial invaders. Now the bugs are fighting back. Dyani Lewis takes a look at the next generation of ‘evolution-proof’ weapons being developed.

How Extremely Large Telescopes will reveal exoplanetsFor astronomers, size matters. The new generation of Extremely Large Telescopes will show us, for the first time, what exoplanets are really like. Fred Watson takes a closer look.

'Locked, loaded and ready to roll': San Andreas fault danger zonesBlind faults, missing links and ever-building stress – Kate Ravilious finds out what keeps seismologists in California up at night.

How big is the universe? There is no bigger empirical question in astrophysics than how big space is. Cathal O'Connell provides a brief history of ideas about the size and shape of the universe.

Einstein, Bohr and the origins of entanglementTwo of history’s greatest physicists argued for decades over one of the deepest mysteries...

Blog Space 22 December 2017

Science has chosen as its 2017 Breakthrough of the Year the first observations of a neutron-star merger, a violent celestial event that transfixed physicists and astronomers.

As the two neutron stars spiralled together 130 million light years away, they generated tiny ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, sensed by enormous gravitational wave detectors on Earth. This merger also triggered an explosion studied by hundreds of astronomers around the world.

Researchers first picked up on gravitational waves over two years ago, when two massive black holes crashed into each other. This space tremor was detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a discovery that landed Science’s Breakthrough of the Year for 2016 and won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The discovery showed that gravitational waves offer a new way of observing the universe and a major tool for astronomers.

“Gravitational waves are the gift that keeps on giving,” explains News Editor Tim Appenzeller. “Observers not only detected gravitational waves from a collision of two neutron stars; they also saw the event at all wavelengths of light, from gamma rays all the way to radio. Being able to get the full picture of violent events like this promises to transform astrophysics, and that made this year’s observation the clear Breakthrough for 2017.”

On 17 August, gamma-ray detectors and radio telescopes sensed the merging of neutron stars. Because the ripples were spotted by three widely spaced detectors, scientists acted quickly and triangulated on the pair's location in the sky.

“Within just 11 hours, several teams had pinpointed a new source on the edge of the galaxy NGC4993. The explosion was easily the most-studied event in the history of astronomy: Some 3,674 researchers from 953 institutions collaborated on a single paper summarizing the merger and its aftermath,” says Science staff writer Adrian Cho....