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

Genes Could Get the Jump on Cane Toads

Scientists who have been using the spread of cane toads to examine genetic mechanisms that limit their range believe that slow adaptation to cold weather is delaying the spread of toads into the southern states.

Prof Lin Schwarzkopf’s team at James Cook University compared the genetic processes occurring in cane toads at three invasion fronts in NSW, western Queensland and Western Australia with processes occurring in toads at the centre of their range to determine the factors limiting their expansion. They found different evolutionary processes at all three range limits.

The Aliens Are Already Extinct

Life on other planets would likely be brief and become extinct very quickly, according to astrobiologists from The Australian National University who argue that new life would commonly die out due to runaway heating or cooling on their fledgling planets.

“The universe is probably filled with habitable planets, so many scientists think it should be teeming with aliens,” said Dr Aditya Chopra, who is lead author of the research published in Astrobiology (www.tinyurl.com/jrmvsk2).

Glowing Fingerprints Illuminate Forensic Evidence

By adding a drop of liquid containing crystals to crime scene surfaces, investigators using a UV light will be able to see invisible fingerprints “glow” in about 30 seconds as a result of new CSIRO research. The strong luminescent effect creates greater contrast between the fingerprint and the surface, enabling higher resolution images to be taken for easier and more precise analysis.

Corals Have the Genes to Adapt to Warmer Oceans

Migration and breeding may enable coral to adapt to hotter oceans, according to research published in Science.

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Texas at Austin crossed individuals of branching coral Acropora millepora from the far north of the Great Barrier Reef with members of the same species at Orpheus Island, 540 km further south, and found that temperature tolerance from the northern coral was passed to the offspring.

Ancient Chinese Remedy Removes Scars

An ancient Chinese remedy for healing wounds could be useful for removing raised scars called hypertrophic scars.

Chen Fan, a PhD student at Queensland University of Technology, investigated the active components of shikonin, a traditional Chinese medicine made from the dried root of Lithospermum erythrorhizon, a plant that grows in China, Japan and Korea. “Shikonin has traditionally been used to improve wound-healing or to treat dermatitis and eczema,” Chen said. It also inhibits HIV-1.

No Reliable Evidence of Wind Farm Syndrome, Says NHMRC

The National Health and Medical Research Council has concluded that “there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans” after undertaking an independent assessment of direct evidence (possible relationships between wind farm emissions and health outcomes) and parallel evidence (the health effects of similar emissions from other sources).

Microbe Is Just One Gene from Multi-drug Resistance

A University of Queensland study has tracked a potentially devastating E. coli strain that is only one gene away from being resistant to almost all anti­biotics.

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