Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


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

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).

Neanderthals and Modern Humans Coexisted

Neanderthal groups lived alongside modern humans for several thousand years, according to an international team of scientists that has overturned previous theories about the extinction of Neanderthals.

Trade Winds Predict Blooms of Irukandji Jellyfish

Financial planners warn that past investment performances don’t predict future results, but CSIRO researchers have ignored that principle in looking for ways to predict blooms of the tiny venomous Irukandji jellyfish.

Irukandji has been linked to two deaths, but many more are suspected. Now Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin and her team have reported a clear link between Irukandji blooms and a lull in trade winds in the Journal of the Royal Society.

“Botox for Plastic” Prevents Polymer Ageing

A new material that prevents plastic from ageing offers huge environmental and cost savings for the energy industry by cleaning up exhaust gases from power plants more effectively than existing methods.

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.

Dr Nouri Ben Zakour of UQ’s Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre said the emergence and rapid spread of E. coli ST131 meant that urinary tract and bloodstream infections could become more common and difficult to treat. “More than 150 million cases of urinary tract infection are reported globally every year, so an E. coli resistant to all currently effective antibiotic treatments could be devastating to the community,” she said.

Dentists Fall for Cavity Illusion

By Stephen Luntz

An optical illusion is causing dentists to drill unnecessarily large holes in their patients' teeth.

Prof Robert O'Shea says that making this fact known could decrease the time involved in dental work and possibly the risk that teeth need to be removed.

O'Shea is an expert in perception and illusions at Southern Cross University, and was asked by A/Prof Nick Chandler of the University of Otago whether dentists drill larger holes in larger teeth even when the area that needs filling is the same size.

IVF Mice Prone to Diabetes

By Stephen Luntz

Mice conceived through IVF are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those conceived naturally, adding to evidence that the same may be true for humans.

A/Prof Leonie Heilbronn of Adelaide University says: “A couple of studies 2–3 years ago showed 200 IVF children had higher fasting glucose levels than a control group and also tended to be fatter. These are risk factors for diabetes.”

However, Heilbronn adds that “in those studies we couldn’t separate whether this was diet or genetics or if the IVF was responsible. Maybe IVF children are more coddled, or maybe parents with greater risk factors are more likely to use IVF.”


By Stephen Luntz

Hormones combine against obesity, antioxidants don’t aid conception, a drug prevents breast cancer relapse, and more.

Parrots Alive

DNA analysis of five feathers collected in the Lake Eyre Basin have confirmed that the Australian night parrot is not extinct.

Pezoporus occidentalis is a different species from New Zealand’s famous kakapo, but shares both the popular name of night parrot and a critically endangered status. Indeed, WA Museum CEO Alec Coles said: “The night parrot is a bird many people believed to be extinct up until 1990, and the WA Museum is very pleased to have been asked to authenticate its existence”.