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A round-up of the latest science and news from Australasia.

Omega-3 Improves Paternity Success

Scientists have long known that omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids can help to prevent heart disease, but new research has found that they can also increase the chance of paternity success.

Prof Jon Evans of The University of Western Australia’s Centre for Evolutionary Biology conducted controlled artificial insemination experiments with the guppy Poecilia reticulata, a promiscuous live-bearing fish whose sperm face fierce competition to achieve fertilisation.

Violent Solar System History Uncovered by WA Meteorite

Curtin University scientists have shed some light on the bombardment history of our solar system by studying a unique volcanic meteorite recovered in Western Australia.

Captured on camera 7 years ago falling on the Nullarbor Plain, the Bunburra Rockhole Meteorite has unique characteristics that suggest it came from a large asteroid that has never before been identified.

CO2 Rise Threatens Nutrition

An international study has concluded that the nutritional quality of major food crops is depleted at levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that are expected in 2050.

The study, published in Nature, gathered data from seven locations across three continents for 40 cultivars of six crops. It found that elevated carbon dioxide levels were associated with lower concentrations of zinc and iron in wheat, rice and legume crops, and lower protein concentrations in wheat and rice crops.

Vinegar Exacerbates Jellyfish Stings

While vinegar is currently the recommended first aid treatment for box jellyfish stings in tropical Australia, new research published in the Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine Journal has found that it can increase discharge of the creature’s venom.

“Our research findings raise concerns that vinegar has the potential to do harm when used as first aid to treat box jellyfish stings,” said A/Prof Jamie Seymour of James Cook University.

Inherited Alzheimer’s Damage Begins Decades before Symptoms

The progression of Alzheimer’s disease may actually slow once symptoms appear, according to a study investigating an inherited form of the disease.

In research published in Science Translational Medicine, Professor Colin Masters of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health has found that rapid neuronal damage begins 10–20 years before symptoms appear. “As part of this research we have observed other changes in the brain that occur when symptoms begin to appear. There is actually a slowing of the neuro­degeneration,” Masters said.

A Universe Less Dusty

By Stephen Luntz

An exceptional galaxy has cast doubt on our conception of the early universe and the way in which galaxies form.

The Milky Way resembles most surrounding galaxies in having substantial quantities of elements heavier than helium (known as metals) and low rates of star formation. The most distant galaxies we can see, viewed as they were billions of years ago, have the reverse. Unfortunately they are too far away to study in detail, so many of our ideas of them come from models based on the older galaxies with which we are familiar.

Quitting Cigarettes by Vaping Isn’t So Easy

Smokers attempting to quit the habit by vaping or using e-cigarettes do not always find the process plain sailing, according to research published in Tobacco Control.

The study, which involved in-depth interviews with 20 vapers who also smoked traditional cigarettes regularly, explored why some smokers did not make a full transition to vaping.

Lead author Dr Lindsay Robertson of the University of Otago says the main reason this group of vapers did not stop smoking completely was a strong attachment to, and a sense of nostalgia for, what they described as “real” cigarettes.

Hoodwinked by a Giant Sunfish

An elusive species of ocean sunfish has been discovered by an international team of researchers led by Murdoch University PhD student Marianne Nyegaard.

Ocean sunfishes are the heaviest and most distinctive of all bony fishes, with some species weighing in excess of 3 tonnes and growing to 3 metres in length. The newly discovered species, named the hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta), is thought to approach a similar size.

“Alternative RNA” Switches Reptile Gender

Many reptiles don’t have sex chromosomes like humans and other mammals. Instead, their gender is set by the temperature at which their eggs are incubated. Researchers studying Australia’s bearded dragon lizard have now discovered the master switch by which this occurs: a temperature-sensitive molecular signature in a family of genes that control the expression of many other genes. The findings have been published in Science Advances.

Fertilisers Make Plants Weaker

As well as causing soil damage and environmental problems from run-off, research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B (http://tinyurl.com/hzwkj58) has found that nitrogen-based fertilisers also reduce a plant community’s resistance to fungal diseases. The researchers warn that prolonged use of artificial fertilisers can lead to the extinction of the most resistant plant species in a community, making the remaining species more susceptible to diseases.