Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


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

Nearby Star Offers New Insight into Earth’s Sun

After nearly a decade of intensive searching, an international team of astronomers has discovered the first star that varies its magnetic field like our own Sun.

The “BCool Project”, an international collaboration studying the dynamo generation of magnetic fields in cool stars, has been mapping the magnetic fields of a number of nearby stars using the Bernard Lyot Telescope in the French Pyrenees.

Bees Have Lateralised Brains Too

Lateralisation has been considered a unique characteristic of the human brain, with different types of processing taking place in the left and right hemispheres. Australian research has now concluded that the social demands imposed on honeybees has seen lateralisation evolve in their brains too.

Seaweed threatens Pacific coral reefs

Regulating overfishing could protect Pacific coral reefs from strangulation by seaweed, according to new findings by a University of Queensland scientist.

“Pacific reefs are more vulnerable to increases in seaweed than we used to think,” said Professor Peter Mumby from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and UQ’s School of Biological Sciences.

“Seaweeds tend to bloom when too many herbivorous fish are fished heavily or when agricultural fertilizers pollute rivers that run into the sea.

Nullarbor’s Ancient Forests Uncovered

Rather than being the treeless, limestone expanse that the Nullarbor Plain is today, dating of fossilised pollen has revealed that five million years ago it received up to four times as much rain as it gets now and was an expanse of gum and eucalyptus trees, banksias and other flowering plants that are now confined to Australia’s east coast.

The finding, published in PNAS (, sheds new light on the environmental history of the Nullarbor, a former seabed that was lifted above the sea 14 million years ago.

Gene Editing of Stem Cells Hastened

A new technique has demonstrated how genetically repaired stem cells can be derived from patient skin cells in as little as 2 weeks, compared with conventional multi-step approaches that take more than 3 months.

Light Exposure Linked to Weight Gain in Children

Pre-schoolers exposed to more light earlier in the day tend to weigh more, according to research presented to the Sleep Downunder Conference in Melbourne.

Early childhood researchers at Queensland University of Technology studied 48 children aged 3–5 years over a 2-week period, measuring each child’s sleep, activity and light exposure along with their height and weight.

Scientists Don’t Turn a Blind Eye to Bias

Scientific journals should insist on more robust experimental processes, according to biologists who reviewed nearly 900,000 experiments.

The team from The Australian National University found that non-blind experiments – where scientists knew which samples they were recording – averaged a 27% stronger result than blind trials. However, their review suggests that less than one in four experiments used blind data recording.

A One-Shot Flu Jab for Life

A research team led by the University of Melbourne has determined how flu-killing CD8+ T cells memorise distinct strains of influenza, opening the way for the development of a one-shot flu jab for life.

The research began during the first outbreak of the avian-derived H7N9 virus in China in 2013, which saw 99% of people infected hospitalised and a 30% mortality rate. Patient zero was an elderly man who caught the virus from a chicken his wife asked him to buy at the local live bird market.

Sting in the Tail for Rare Species Conservation

The reintroduction of six severely threatened species – including bilbies and bettongs – back into their natural habitat at Scotia Sanctuary in western NSW has seen a decline in scorpions and increase in spiders. Scorpions had flourished without predation by the mammals.

Blood Test Predicts Early Labour

A new blood test can predict whether women showing signs of early labour will go on to give birth too soon.

An international research team has reported in PLOS ONE that the blood test can distinguish between true and false labour in 70% of cases. “About 5% of women with signs of early labour give birth within 10 days, but until now there hasn’t been a reliable test to determine whether women having early contractions will go on to deliver their babies early,” said co-author A/Prof Craig Pennell of The University of WA.