Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


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

Venoms Don’t Lose Their Bite

By Stephen Luntz

A box of long-lost venom samples has proven to be a treasure-trove with the potential to provide new drugs and improve our understanding of snake evolution.

Ten years ago A/Prof Bryan Fry was deputy director at the Australian Venom Research Unit. Investigating old boxes tucked away in storage, he found one curated by anti-venom legend Prof Struan Sutherland before somehow being lost to memory.

Diet Influences Mental Health in Children

By Stephen Luntz

Separate studies have found a connection between diet and mental health in children.

Both studies involved Australian researchers working with large health studies from other countries.

A/Prof Felice Jacka of Deakin University’s Impact Strategic Research Centre used the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study to find a relationship between unhealthy diets during pregnancy and children’s mental health.

Less Chemotherapy for Some Breast Cancers

By Stephen Luntz

A new combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy has had 100% success in stopping the spread of a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer in mice.

Breast cancers that do not express genes for oestrogen, progesterone or human epidermal growth factor receptors are known as “triple-negative” and account for around 20% of all breast cancers. Although quite diverse, they are generally hard to treat as they lack surface receptors to target and have higher rates of relapse in the first 3–5 years.

Heat Waves Stress Sheep and Koala Fertility

Western Sydney University researchers have provided an insight into the physiological stress that summer heatwaves place on wildlife and livestock.

In a study published in PLoS ONE, Dr Edward Narayan analysed the physiological stress of Australian merino sheep during an artificial insemination breeding program in Dubbo, and found that the body temperature of the ewes was a significant factor behind reduced embryo survival.

Our Galaxy’s Black Hole Is Not As Deadly As First Thought

A study published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society has indicated that, contrary to past theories, supermassive black holes are not responsible for starving their host galaxies to death.

Led by Macquarie University PhD candidate Michael Cowley, the researchers concluded that it’s unlikely that the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole is starving our galaxy of its precious star-forming fuel supply. “This work has the potential to rewrite our understanding of how the Milky Way and similar galaxies form and evolve over cosmic time,” Cowley said.

Night Phone Use Harms Adolescent Mental Heath

Late-night mobile phone use by adolescents is directly linked to poor quality sleep, leading to poorer mental health outcomes, reduced coping and lowered self-esteem according to the first longitudinal study that has investigated how night phone use and mental health were connected.

“We have demonstrated how poor sleep is the key link connecting an increase in night-time mobile use with subsequent increases in psychosocial issues,” said lead researcher Dr Lynette Vernon of Murdoch University.

Cane Toads Make Long-Distance Calls for Love

Scientists have discovered that cane toads make mating calls that carry many times further than other frogs and toads. “This means they are heard by more individuals and can bring in more mates to breed with than some other species,” said Mr Benjamin Muller of James Cook University.

While most frog and toad species only respond to mating calls made a few metres away, the researchers found that male cane toads respond to calls made up to 120 metres away.

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 (

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.