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

Planets Are the Norm, Not the Exception

By Stephen Luntz

There are probably many more planets in our galaxy than stars.

There are probably many more planets in our galaxy than stars, according to an international study published in Nature.

Over recent years the subtle movements in nearby stars, triggered by the gravitational effects of their companions, have been used to detect hundreds of planets. The Kepler space telescope, which is watching the dimming caused by planets passing across the face of the Sun, has turned the rate of discovery into an avalanche, with more than 2000 prospective planets revealed last year.

Name Children Simply

By Stephen Luntz

Parents should take care when naming their children.

Easily pronounced names are an asset in life, according to five studies collectively reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. While four of the studies looked at surnames, one detected the influence of both names, indicating that parents should take care when naming their children.

Dr Adam Alter of New York University has made a career studying how fluency affects success. He has previously found that easily pronounced business names attract more investors. Other studies have found that drugs that are hard to pronounce are considered more risky.

Hendra Antibodies Found in African Bats

By Stephen Luntz

The discovery of antibodies capable of neutralising the Hendra and Nipah viruses in African bats has overturned ideas about how the viruses spread.

Hendra and Nipah viruses, sometimes considered one disease, are carried by fruit bats. While there is no record of the bats getting sick, Hendra can be transmitted to horses and then to people, while Nipah can be transmitted directly to people. In both cases the viruses can be fatal.

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RepellAnt in Silk

By Stephen Luntz

Silk produced by golden orb-weaving spiders contains ant repellent.

The silk produced by golden orb-weaving spiders is not merely strong, elastic and colour-coded to match locations, but it also contains ant repellent.

Ants represent more of a threat to spiders than potential prey, so it makes sense for spiders to keep them off their webs. Prof Mark Elgar of The University of Melbourne and a team from the National University of Singapore wondered why ants were so rarely observed on orb-weaver webs, despite their often-close proximity.

Chemicals Undergo Toxic Inversion

By Stephen Luntz

Pharmaceuticals in wastewater can become converted to toxic forms.

Even non-toxic pharmaceuticals escaping into the water supply may be unsafe, Dr Stuart Khan of the University of NSW Water Research Centre has revealed in the journal Water Research.

Many chemicals exist in two forms known as enantiomers, mirror images that cannot be superimposed on each other. The transformation from one enantiomer to another is known as a chiral inversion and can be triggered by bacteria. While some enantiomers have identical effects on the human body, some are harmless or beneficial while their reflection is toxic.

Carbon Storage Passes the Test

By Stephen Luntz

CO2 successfully contained underground in south-western Victoria.

For the first time, detailed monitoring has confirmed the success of carbon dioxide storage in an underground reservoir. The findings, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mark an essential step towards large-scale sequestration of power station emissions, although the work sheds no light on the economic viability of such programs.

Alzheimer’s Vaccine Slows Development of Tangles

By Stephen Luntz

Vaccine shows promise for Alzheimer's and early-onset dementia.

A vaccine has proven effective against a neural disease in mice that is considered a model for both Alzheimer’s disease and frontal temporal dementia, the second most common form of early onset dementia.

Attempts to stop Alzheimer’s disease have focused on preventing the accumulation of amyloid betaplaques associated with the condition. Instead, A/Prof Lars Ittner of the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Research Institute has concentrated on the tau protein, which is present in both conditions and is believed to drive the formation of neurofibrillary tangles.