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Medical Research Must Come Clean

By Mark Shannon

Up to one-third of cell lines may be contaminated, threatening the reliability of research.

Medical research often uses cell lines – cells taken from a human or animal and grown in a laboratory – to evaluate potential therapies. Cultured cells need everything that they’d normally get in nature, but supplied artificially. One wrong step could cause the cells to die.

Another misstep could introduce contaminants to the culture. Microbial contamination, especially by Mycoplasma species, can have major impacts on cell culture results even if there aren’t any visible sign of contamination. Cross-contamination between cell lines may also make experimental results unreliable.

Economics on an Even Keel

By David Tranter

Can economics balance its books with the limits of ecology?

Jobs of the Future: The Known Unknown

By Karen Andrews

The digital revolution is having a profound impact on the workforce. Increasing skills in science, technology, engineering and maths is not optional.

The Australian labour market will undergo a profound transition over the next 10–20 years. It’s hard to comprehend, but it’s been estimated that 5.1 million or 44% of current Australian jobs are at risk from digital disruption over the next 20 years.

If you find this difficult to believe, think about this. Today you are likely to consult with an app designer, a search engine optimisation specialist, a blogger and a social media adviser to promote a new product. These are all jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

Stem Cell Loophole Must Be Closed

By Richard Harvey, Martin Pera and Megan Munsie

Unproven stem cell treatments are being offered in Australia without regulatory oversight.

The use of stem cells to treat currently intractable conditions has the capacity to revolutionise medicine. However, despite more than a decade of intensive research on a number of stem cell systems, the only proven and approved stem cell therapy available for Australian patients is the transplantation of stem cells from bone marrow to treat diseases of the blood and immune system. Other stem cell applications are only just starting to be evaluated in clinical trials.

Closing the High Seas Opens Fishing Opportunities

By Reg Watson

Closing international waters to fishing would have little or no effect on global catches but make fishing potentially fairer, safer, better-managed and less polluting.

Following the establishment of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982, the world’s maritime countries made moves to claim sole control over ocean resources in Exclusive Economic Zones extending 200 nautical miles (370 km) of their coastlines. Most of the resources that these nations took were close to shore and in the relatively shallow depths of the continental shelves. It was here that such activities as mineral exploration and oil drilling were possible.

Science Is Not Just Whitefella Business

By Rowena Ball

Australia’s indigenous culture has a rich scientific heritage, yet indigenous people are under-represented in science-related careers today. Some simple steps can change this.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are under-represented in science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM) careers to an extent that could amount to a violation of human rights under Article 27 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the right of everyone to share in science and its benefits.

How to Get Girls into Physics

By Frances Saunders

Research from the UK has identified several impediments that discourage girls from studying physics, with new interventions now being trialled.

The Institute of Physics has been active in researching diversity issues for a decade, examining the whole pipeline of people in physics-related careers in the UK, from school, through further education and into jobs in academia and industry. From this research there are two critical parts of the pipeline where gender diversity issues stand out:

  • at the age of 16, when the proportion of girls studying physics drops to around 20% of the cohort; and

Can Science and Religion Be Friends?

By Peter Harrison

Some scientists would prefer religion to become extinct but it defiantly prospers – peaceful co-existence is the enduring paradigm.

In 1966, anthropologist Anthony Wallace confidently predicted that “belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world, as a result of the increasing adequacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge”.

It’s Time to Prepare for Peak Phosphorus

By Graeme Batten and Lindsay Campbell

A looming global shortage of an important fertiliser necessitates the development of phosphorus-efficient crops, recycling of phosphorus from sewage and even separating it from urine.

Australians should be very concerned and New Zealanders alarmed by their dependence on phosphorus. Why? On a per person assessment, Australians and New Zealanders use 5.3 and 15.4 times more phosphorus than the world average, which is 2.4 kg per person per year.

Is “Mentally Ill” the New Normal?

By Gloria Wright

Drug treatments for behaviours that were previously not considered mental health conditions raise several unintended consequences.

If we are to believe federal Health Minister Peter Dutton, 46% of us will develop a mental illness in our lifetimes – a staggering increase. Almost half of us will qualify to log in to Dutton’s new online support forum SANE.

As the near majority of us can expect to have our individual identities relabelled as treatable disorders, the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual offers an ever-widening selection of “conditions” from which to choose – “illnesses” that previous generations may have seen as human dilemmas rather than mental disorders.