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

Cancer Cause Also a Cure?

By Stephen Luntz

Patients with colorectal cancer show highly varied responses to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The Garvan Institute is investigating the possibility that a gene called MCC might explain the differences.

“We’ve shown that MCC has an important role to play in a well-known phenomenon known as the DNA damage response,” says Dr Laurent Pangon. “Every cell in the body is regularly exposed to DNA damage from things like toxins, viruses or radiation.”

Ultraviolet Light Exposure Damages Tadpoles

By Stephen Luntz

Depletion of the ozone layer has been revived as an explanation for the extinction of amphibians after the discovery that increased ultraviolet-B radiation makes striped marsh frog tadpoles more vulnerable to predators.

Since 1980 more than 150 species of amphibians have become extinct. This compares poorly with background extinctions of one every 250 years. “With amphibians being the most threatened of all vertebrates, and also important indicators of environmental health, understanding the causes of their declines is critical for their conservation, and possibly the conservation of other species,” says Lesley Alton, a PhD Student at the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences.

Swallowed Galaxy Coming Towards Us

By Stephen Luntz

The Siding Springs Observatory has been involved in the discovery of the closest remnant of a small galaxy that has been swallowed by the Milky Way.

Known as the Aquarius Stream, after its position in the sky, the evidence for the former galaxy comes in the form of a small number of giant stars coming in our direction at speeds of about 180 km/s. The closest of these stars is 1500 light years away, and they form a long, thin stream stretching out to a distance of 25,000 light years.

The galaxy was absorbed into our own around 700 million years ago, which is recent enough for the common motions of the stars to be detectable.

No Need to Flog a Tired Horse

By Stephen Luntz

A study of 48 racehorses has found no benefit from whipping them in the last stage of a race.

The research was conducted by Hon A/Prof David Evans and Prof Paul McGreevy of the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science. It was funded by the RSPCA and published in the Public Library of Science.

Although only one horse was not whipped at all in the study, the number of times the other horses were whipped ranged from 1–14 over the last 400 metres. Evans and McGreevy found that increased whipping did not improve the chances that a horse would place.

Malaria’s Invasion Imaged

By Stephen Luntz

The process by which the malaria parasite makes its way into red blood cells has been observed in astonishing detail.

Malaria’s Invasion Imaged

The findings, published in Cell Host & Microbe, may help the search for new drugs against the killer disease.

Dr Jake Baum of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) says the observations required bringing together several lines of work, while developments in super resolution microscopy allowed extraordinarily detailed three-dimensional images of the process.

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Racial Classification Isn’t Black and White

By Stephen Luntz

People are more likely to classify faces showing a mixture of characteristics into a category they have had less exposure to, a University of Otago study has found.

The research sheds light on why biracial individuals such as US President Barack Obama are considered part of a minority.

A tendency to view people who fall between categories as “others” might be explained by a subconscious desire to keep the group with which one identifies pure. The complex politics of race provide other reasons for classifying individuals with mixed heritage as a minority, such as to deny privileges. However, A/Prof Jamin Halberstadt says: “I think the burden of proof falls on the motivational explanations”.

Childhood Paracetamol Use Linked to Asthma

By Stephen Luntz

A longitudinal study has confirmed the connection between early paracetamol use and asthma, as well as finding a link to allergies.

“Observational studies have suggested a link between paracetamol and asthma,” says Prof Julian Crane of the University of Otago. These have included studies with enormous sample sizes. However, these relied on parents’ memories of when they first gave their children paracetamol, and how often.

Flying Vampire Frog Alert

By Stephen Luntz

A new species of tree frog discovered in the mountains of Vietnam has been given the blood-curdling name of the vampire flying frog.

Rhacophorus vampyrus was named by Dr Jodi Rowley of the Australian Museum, who described the species in the journal Zootaxa. She first found a specimen in 2008, but required assistance from locals to uncover further individuals for study.