Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


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

Static Electricity Splits Chemical Bonds

Researchers from Curtin University have demonstrated how chemical bonds between atoms are impacted by static electricity, unlocking future potential benefits for the manufacturing and electronics industries.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, found that an external electric trigger can selectively split chemical bonds between carbon and oxygen atoms, shedding light on an overlooked aspect of chemistry and nanotechnology.

Low Blood Sugar in Newborns Linked to Later Difficulties

A newborn condition affecting one in six babies has been linked to impairment in some high-level brain functions that show up by a child’s fifth birthday.

Fossils Help Determine Ocean’s Role in Last Ice Age

Scientists from The University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and Simon Fraser University have used the fossil record to pull together the first global database of ocean temperatures over the past 125,000 years in order to explain why carbon dioxide levels were low at the time.

The study, published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, combined ocean temperature records with other studies to show how carbon dioxide took different paths into the deep sea during different phases of the ice age.

Extreme Fires to Increase

Increasingly dangerous fire weather is forecast for Australia and the Mediterranean as the global footprint of extreme fires expands, according to a report published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

An international collaboration of researchers compiled a global satellite database of the intensity of 23 million landscape fires recorded between 2002 and 2013. Of these, the researchers honed in on 478 of the most extreme wildfire events.

Fish Fossil May Reveal Origin of Human Teeth

Three-dimensional prints of a 400-million-year-old fish fossil from around Lake Burrinjuck 50 km north-west of Canberra reveal the possible evolutionary origins of human teeth, new research has found.

Researchers at The Australian National University and Queensland Museum digitally dissected the jaws of Buchanosteus – an armoured fish from the extinct placoderm group – and used the 3D prints to learn how the jaws moved and whether the fish had teeth.

Plastic Waste Reverse Engineered Into Clean Fuel

A Griffith University researcher is hoping to revolutionise how plastic is recycled by converting it into fuel that is cleaner and more energy-efficient than petrol or diesel.

PhD student Songpol Boonsawat has developed a waste disposal system that turns household plastic waste, contaminated plastic waste and targeted plastic waste into fuel. “This work could revolutionise how to sustainably eliminate plastic waste from landfill and reduce the contamination of plastic in nature by closing the loop of the plastic product lifecycle,” Boonsawat says.

New Tasmanian Devil Facial Cancer

Routine field research has identified a second transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devils that is very similar to Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). The new cancer has similarities to DFTD as it causes tumours, primarily on the face or inside the mouth, and is probably also spread between devils by biting.

What Women Want in a Sperm Donor

A study into how women choose sperm donors online has revealed that men who are intellectual, shy, calm and methodical are selected to produce more children rather than those who are extroverted.

“Worldwide demand for sperm donors is so great, an informal online market has emerged in which offspring are being produced outside of the more formal fertility clinic setting,” said Mr Stephen Whyte of Queensland University of Technology.

Molecules Inhibit Cancer Metastasis and Multiple Sclerosis

An international team of scientists has identified potential inhibitors of cell membrane proteins involved in the spread of cancer to other parts of the body, and in the progression of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

The newly identified molecules strongly inhibit the action of the two chemokine receptors CXCR4 and ACKR3, which work together to regulate cell migration and are thus important in both cancer metastasis and autoimmune disease. The variant that bound most strongly to the CXCR4 receptor inhibited multiple sclerosis in a laboratory study.

How Much Weight Do Quitters Gain?

Fear of weight gain is a commonly cited reason for not quitting smoking, despite evidence that quitting will result in better overall health.

Now researchers at the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research have quantified the weight gain for smokers who quit, and the difference in weight gain between quitters and continuing smokers.