Blog Geoscience 18 December 2017
The Great Barrier Reef needs plenty of eyes on it.
The Great Barrier Reef needs plenty of eyes on it.
Jennifer Loder

The sheer size and diversity of habitats that make up the big beautiful Great Barrier Reef (GBR), also represent an extreme challenge to monitor and manage. To boost the extent and regularity of information about key vital signs, individuals and communities are joining a growing movement of citizen science for the Reef.

The Australian Citizen Science Association defines citizen science as public participation and collaboration in scientific research, with the goal to increase scientific knowledge. Reef-relevant citizen science programs offer options for different activities, covering what and how data is collected. This means there truly is an opportunity for everyone to get involved.

As a snorkeler or diver, you can contribute by collecting and reporting information from what you see on your reef visit. This might include information on the types of wildlife, habitats or reef health impacts you see through Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Eye on the Reef Program.

Or you can help monitor coral colour using the CoralWatch Coral Health Chart to track bleaching. If you see something usual while out on the water, you can report unusual sea creatures using Redmap’s app, which helps to track species range shifts.

For those who want to elevate their skills, there are options to train to join survey teams that collect globally standardised reef health data with Reef Check Australia.

The GBR is more than just coral, and includes other important connected habitats such as mangroves and sandy islands. So, you don’t even need to leave the coast to get involved in programs such as Tangaroa Blue which allows you to report beach clean-up findings to track marine debris to the source. You can also help monitor indicators for other connected habitats, such as testing water quality in creeks and rivers that flow to the Reef with Conservation Volunteers Australia, or recording the extent and condition of mangroves that filter run-off from...

Blog Biology 15 December 2017
Intrinsic links between human health and the environment are the focus of new collaborative research.
Intrinsic links between human health and the environment are the focus of new collaborative research.
Diogo Salles / Getty Images

The University of Sydney, Australia, has launched a unique program called Planetary Health to aid the fight against climate change and boost our planet’s health.

This is part of a larger agenda, which was a result of a joint commission between the Rockefeller Foundation in the US and British medical journal The Lancet.

Kicked off in 2015, the exercise produced a report that found while humans were living longer and were healthier than ever before, the improvements had come at a great cost to our planet. The report concluded that because humans and the environment are intrinsically connected, we stand to lose the gains made in health and lifestyle if we continue to degrade the Earth.

And so the Planetary Health plan was hatched.

At the University of Sydney, the plan will see open collaborations between various health, environmental, and agricultural research institutes.

In pursuit of these objectives, Tony Capon has been named the world’s first Professor of Planetary Health. With his team, he will perform informative multidisciplinary research; support undergraduate and postgraduate students to find answers to our environmental problems; and bring about real change in policy, industry and within communities through active leadership and engagement.

For more details, see here.

Blog Archaeology 14 December 2017
One of the Bronze Age artworks discovered in Indonesia, in situ (left) and isolate (right).
One of the Bronze Age artworks discovered in Indonesia, in situ (left) and isolate (right).
Sue O’Connor/ANU

On a speck of an Indonesian island, a team of archaeologists from the Australian National University in Canberra have uncovered a cache of incredible ancient cave paintings.

The 28 rock sites housing the paintings were found on an island called Kisar, which has, until now, remained uncharted. The motifs in these paintings suggest that they were created during the Bronze Age, approximately 2500 years ago. They hold a plethora of historical information about the region’s trade and cultural practices.

The island was part of a vibrant spice trade, which is hinted at in the artwork, with illustrations of boats, horses and ceremonial drums. The works share a feature found on paintings on nearby Timor-Leste – a protocol of depicting humans and animals only 10 centimetres high.

Strikingly, these small but dynamic depictions also bear resemblance to those found in north Vietnam and south China, which are assumed to be from the same period. This points to the fact that all these regions were interacting and trading with each other, leading to an exchange of artistic expression.

Sue O’Connor led the expedition and the findings were published in Cambridge Journal of Archaeology, published in Cambridge Journal of Archaeology.

Blog Biology 13 December 2017
It's a race against time to save the Leadbeater's possum.
It's a race against time to save the Leadbeater's possum.
Zoos Victoria

Zoos in the Australian state of Victoria are engaged in a renewed effort to ensure the diminutive, large-eyed Leadbeater’s possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) has a fighting chance to survive extinction.

The population of this emblematic marsupial, also known as the fairy possum, was once widespread, but is now highly fragmented, limited to small nooks of the mountainous ash forests in the Central Highlands of Victoria. Indiscriminate logging and destruction caused by extreme weather events have devastated its habitat and numbers, seriously endangering its long-term survival.

To complicate matters, genetic studies found that the possum population consisted of two distinct subspecies, one living in the lofty highlands and one dwelling the swampy lowlands.

The latter, isolated and inbred, is found in the Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve, 45 kilometres from the state’s capital Melbourne, where a mere 38 individuals are thought to live.

These abysmal numbers led to the development of the captive breeding program run out of one of the three state zoos, the Healesville Sanctuary. Despite intensive efforts, this has failed to revive the subspecies.

Now a new program will use the process of genetic rescue, which involves introducing a healthy individual from the genetically diverse highland population. This will bring superior genetic material into the mix, leading to breeding of a resilient hybrid. The technique has worked wonders for other marsupial species that were on the brink of extinction, such as the pygmy possum.

Visit these tiny yet fascinating creatures at the Sanctuary and learn how you can involve yourself in conservation efforts. More in formation here.

Blog Biology 12 December 2017
Coral may cope better with ocean acidification than scientists had thought.
Coral may cope better with ocean acidification than scientists had thought.
Prasit / Getty

Coral may be able to acclimatise and thrive despite increasingly acidic oceans, according to new collaborative research that suggests some hope for reefs.

Scientists from the University of Western Australia and the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology examined coral from Hawai’i’s Kāne‘ohe Bay that had previously endured a decade of ocean acidification due to human activity, which caused a drop in the pH of the seawater and a rise in its temperature.

In an experimental setting, they used a unique geochemical approach to track the chemical changes that might occur in the coral calcification process to better understand how these creatures adjust to and withstand detrimental changes.

Interestingly enough, they found that the coral altered the dynamics of their calcification process by tweaking the physiological balance between the pH and carbon content of their internal calcifying liquid. This allowed them to grow and flourish.

The research was led by Verena Schoepf and published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Blog Society 12 December 2017
Scholarships and mentorships may smooth the path the world of science for Indigenous students.
Scholarships and mentorships may smooth the path the world of science for Indigenous students.
Paul Taylor / Getty

The University of Melbourne, Australia, has announced a pioneering science mentorship program for Indigenous students.

The approach of the program, called the Indigenous Science Students Pathway, will be three-pronged. It will work to support students at every level from high school through to the workforce to ensure educational equality.

The contribution will boost existing initiatives, such as the Residential Indigenous Student Experience, encouraging year 9 and 10 students to pursue and persevere with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

The money will also be used to support university students through the four-year Bachelor of Science program — geared uniquely towards Indigenous students and provide them with added support to help bridge any knowledge gaps.

Finally, it will provide much needed scholarships to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled in undergraduate and PhD studies and connect them with industry mentors.

The program is funded by a $600,000 gift from Agilent Technologies Foundation.

Blog Geoscience 11 December 2017
Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work they go...
Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work they go...
Australian Antarctic Division

Are you tired of your desk job, or just looking for some adventure? Then working as part of the Australian Antarctic Program may be just the gig for you.

The Australian Antarctic Division – part of the federal Department of the Environment – is currently looking to fill over 150 positions, ranging from chef to station leader, medical practitioner to telecommunications operator. You could work on one of the organisation’s three remote research stations, or on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island, which is a touch closer to home.

This promises to be an unparalleled experience, living and working as part of a diverse community in one of the most secluded places on our planet. Not to mention the prospect of seeing penguins in their natural habitat, spectacular glaciers and the awe-inspiring Aurora Australis.

Each person will carry out his or her specialised duties, but also have the chance to lend a hand in the day-to-day workings on the station.

To find out about the prerequisites and get your hat in the ring for the various positions that are currently recruiting, click here.

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.