Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


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

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.

Stem Cell Mutations Explored

By Stephen Luntz

Why do some stem cells acquire genetic mutations when cultured?

The fact that pluripotent stem cells sometimes become genetically unstable has been one of the major barriers to the use of stem cells to treat medical conditions.

An international study has provided some hints as to why some stem cells acquire genetic mutations when cultured, with Nature Biotechnology reporting the results after culturing 127 human embryonic stem (HES) cells lines and 11 induced pluripotent (iPS) stem cell lines.

Nurture Immunises Against Addiction

By Stephen Luntz

Nurturing of infants could be a powerful factor in their propensity to addiction.

The brain’s immune system has an unexpectedly important role in the response of rats to opiate addiction, a paper in the Journal of Neuroscience reveals. Moreover, this response is determined by the level of maternal care. The findings may transform responses to all forms of addiction in humans.

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Protein Is the Key to Weight Loss

By Stephen Luntz

A new line of evidence has been produced to support the theory that overeating is largely driven by inadequate protein content in the modern diet.

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Fish Slimed to Death

By Stephen Luntz

Hagfish filmed choking predators with noxious slime.

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