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

Science News in Brief

By Stephen Luntz

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By Stephen Luntz

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Autism Linked to Pink Disease

By Stephen Luntz

Children with a family history of pink disease have a higher risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, researchers at Swinburne University of Technology have claimed, but their evidence has been swiftly challenged.

Pink disease results from mercury exposure, possibly in combination with a genetic hypersensitivity. In the first half of the 20th century mercury was used in teething powders and one in 500 exposed children developed the condition, with symptoms including itchiness, muscle weakness and sensitivity to light. Substantial numbers of sufferers died from secondary bronchial infections.

Solar-powers Soldiers

By Stephen Luntz

Soldiers will soon be walking easier, with lightweight solar panels replacing heavy batteries on longer missions.

“Currently soldiers are dependent on electrical power provided by a conventional battery to power these devices,” says Dr Igor Skryabin of the Australian National University’s Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems. “While battery technology research has delivered considerable improvements, the goal of a small, lightweight power storage system, capable of sustaining all electronic equipment for the whole time a soldier is in the field, is not yet available.”

Earth’s Longer Iron Age

By Stephen Luntz

The deep ocean remained iron-rich and devoid of oxygen far longer than previously thought, analysis of mineral deposits such as Mt Isa suggests.

Early in its existence the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans were devoid of oxygen. The oceans instead had high concentrations of iron.

But 2.4 billion years ago the planet experienced the Great Oxidation Event, when oxygen levels in the atmosphere rose dramatically. While still well below modern levels, this oxygen was sufficient to infiltrate the upper levels of the ocean, oxidising the iron and transforming these waters to something more like what we know today.

Management Benefits the Brain

By Stephen Luntz

Working in management expands the hippocampus, potentially protecting this vital area of the brain against Alzheimer’s disease in later life.

Dr Michael Valenzuela, Leader of Regenerative Neuroscience at the University of NSW School of Psychiatry, and colleagues took MRIs of

151 people aged 75–92. These were used to measure the size of the subjects’ hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for the consolidation of memory and other functions such as spatial navigation and smell recognition.

Participants were asked to divide their careers into decadal periods and record the largest number of people they managed for substantial portions of each period.

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By Stephen Luntz

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Dolphins Go Fishing with Conch Shells

By Stephen Luntz

One of the remarkable behaviours of the bottlenose dolphins of Shark Bay in Western Australia appears to be becoming more common, opening up exciting questions about these intelligent animals.

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Soccer Ball Nebula Undermines Theory

By Stephen Luntz

The confirmation of a planetary nebula, recently discovered by amateurs, may lead to the overthrow of an astronomical theory that is currently taught as confirmed knowledge.

Read this article in Australasian Science Magazine (print only).

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Multiple Risks for Multiple Sclerosis

By Stephen Luntz

Genes and Epstein-Barr virus increase MS risk

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