Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


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

Fruit Waste Fights Cancer

By Stephen Luntz

The waste thrown out during the production of fruit juices and other processed fruit products contains antioxidants that may prove potent against disease.

“Fruit has long been known for its health benefits, partly as a good source of antioxidants, the chemical compounds, including some vitamins, that protect body cells from damage,” says Dr Said Ajlouni of the University of Melbourne’s School of Land and Environment. “So we decided to investigate if fruit waste also had these properties.”

Pulsar Glitches Explained

A step has been taken to explaining curious changes in signals from pulsars.

A step has been taken to explaining curious changes in signals from pulsars. Credit: Russell Kightley

By Stephen Luntz

Dr George Hobbs of CSIRO has found a pattern to odd shifts in the timing of pulsars. His work may contribute to a greater understanding of the behaviour of these important astronomical objects, and could make pulsars even more powerful tools for testing the fundamental laws of the universe.

The radio signals that pulsars release as they spin form remarkably accurate timing devices, but they gradually slow down as the electromagnetic emissions drain energy from the stars’ rotation.

Nevertheless, the timing of these signals is not perfectly consistent. While some variations can be explained through external forces, such as large nearby objects altering a pulsar’s orbit, others have been harder to explain.

Unexpected Cold a Killer

By Stephen Luntz

Perth and Sydney experience greater increases in cardiovascular death rates over winter than Tasmania does, a new study has found.

Dr Adrian Barnett of the Queensland Institute of Technology is not as surprised as the general public might be. “A lot of very large studies have found that Scandinavia has a much lower increase in winter deaths than Spain, Italy and Greece,” he says.

However, Barnett says that this could be affected by differences in wealth, culture or the quality of the health care system. “Australia’s a good place to study this because we have such a wide range of climates but relatively similar culture and socio-economic circumstances,” Barnett says.

Exercise First, Eat Later

By Stephen Luntz

The pain of early morning exercise may have a benefit for athletes, with evidence that those who train before breakfast get more benefit than those who eat first.

Conventional advice is that athletes should eat before training, but A/Prof Steve Stannard of Massey University is not surprised that his research found otherwise. “Training is all about putting the body under stress, not going faster,” Stannard says. “So by starting out with less fuel, you will reach the point where you really begin to stress the body quicker. This means you will spend longer under stress, and ultimately the training will be more beneficial.”

Athletes Can Taste Victory

Athlete with sports drink

The findings raise the possibility of a “sixth taste sense” that is able to detect energy density.

By Stephen Luntz

The taste of an energy-laden drink can produce a surge in muscle strength even before glucose hits the bloodstream.

In a study run by Dr Nicholas Gant and Dr Cathy Stinear of the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research, 16 young men held weights for 11 minutes, flexing every 2 minutes. “Not surprisingly, the maximum force they could produce decreased over time,” Stinear says. However, when given an energy drink the participants showed 2% more muscle strength only 1 second later.

Security Cameras Get Smart

By Stephen Luntz

New security cameras will enable overstretched security staff to better focus their real-time surveillance.

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Growth Hormone Works in Part

By Stephen Luntz

The first scientific evidence that human growth hormone (HGH) benefits athletic performance has been produced. However, the effect is surprisingly narrow.

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Helicobacter Protects Against Cancer

By Stephen Luntz

The bacterium that causes stomach ulcers provides protection against an increasingly common form of cancer.

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Ice Loss Accelerates Warming

Image of Earth temperatures

The 28-year temperature trend for the autumn season. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

By Stephen Luntz

Climatologists believe they have confirmed what has been long suspected: the rapid loss of sea-ice from the Arctic is a result of a feedback cycle where global warming causes ice loss, which in turn causes more local warming.

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Wasp Gene Link to Autism, Schizophrenia

Image of wasp

The NRXN1 gene exists in three species of Nasonia wasps.

By Stephen Luntz

Genes believed to be implicated in autism and schizophrenia have been found in the sequencing of the genome of three species of parasitic wasp, indicating they are extraordinarily ancient and essential for animal survival.

The protein neurexin 1 is linked to learning in species as diverse as mice, humans and honeybees. Defects in the protein are common in families where autism and impaired social interactions are common.

Bee brains are flooded with neurexin 1 when they learn to associate odours with food. The protein helps form connections between neighbouring neurons, providing the linkage essential to the operation of learning in the brain.