Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


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

Gene Critical in Brain Development

New research from the University of Adelaide has confirmed that a gene linked to intellectual disability is critical to the earliest stages of the development of human brains.

Published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, the research explains how mutations in USP9X are associated with intellectual disability. These mutations, which can be inherited from one generation to the next, cause disruptions to normal brain cell functioning.

Stomach Responds to Time of Day

By Stephen Luntz

Nerves in the stomach alter the amount we can eat without feeling full depending on the time of day.

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People Prefer a Human Face for Robots

By Stephen Luntz

Elderly people prefer to get medical assistance from a robot that displays a human face, according to Dr Elizabeth Broadbent of the University of Auckland’s Department of Psychological Medicine.

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Nanomaterial to Protect Astronauts from Space Radiation

Scientists have designed a nanomaterial that can reflect or transmit light on demand, opening the door to technology that protects astronauts in space from harmful radiation. Dr Mohsen Rahmani of The Australian National University’s Nonlinear Physics Centre said the material was so thin that hundreds of layers could fit on the tip of a needle and could be applied to any surface, including spacesuits.

Herbal Medicine’s Hidden Risks Pose a Threat to Health

The perception that herbal medicines are safe because they are derived from natural materials and have been in use for thousands of years could see people unknowingly putting their health at risk, according to a report in the Medical Journal of Australia.

The report highlights a range of issues relating to the preparation of complementary medicines, warning that some traditional herbal preparations contain toxic chemicals from both animals and plants, as well as heavy metals and pesticides.

Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis Has Created an Artificial Epidemic

Doctors around the world are overdiagnosing the most common thyroid cancer, creating an artificial epidemic that costs billions of dollars each year in unnecessary medical costs. Global diagnoses of differentiated thyroid cancer have increased threefold during the past 25 years yet there has been no change to the disease’s low death rate.

Hair Samples Reveal the Effects of Ecstasy Use

Swinburne University researchers have used hair samples to measure levels of stress caused by the party drug ecstasy. Lead researcher Dr Luke Downey looked at cortisol levels found in the hair of light and heavy users of ecstasy and also measured their cognitive performance.

“Cortisol is a stress hormone that we all produce in our bodies, and interestingly it is deposited in our hair. Looking at cortisol in hair is a way for us to see how stressed we’ve been in the past,” Downey said.

Black Leopards Reveal Their Spots

Black leopards on the Malay Peninsula can now be identified by their spots following the development of a photographic trick that may end up saving their skins.

“Most automatic cameras have an infrared flash, but it’s only activated at night”, said Dr Gopalasamy Reuben Clements from James Cook University. “However, by blocking the camera’s light sensor, we can fool the camera into thinking it’s night even during the day, so it always flashes.”

Dr Google Promotes “Cyberchondria”

Internet search engines are providing irrelevant health information that could lead to incorrect self-diagnosis, self-treatment and ultimately possible harm, according to research published in Advances in Information Retrieval.

Google has reported that 5% of its 100 million searches each month are for health-related information, and in 2012 the Pew Research Centre reported that 35% of American adults have gone online to self-diagnose a medical condition.