Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Cover Story

Cover Story

Window of Opportunity

Interleukin-2 therapy will achieve a complete response when it is administered d

Interleukin-2 therapy will achieve a complete response when it is administered during a 12-hour window in the 7-day immune cycle.

By Martin Ashdown & Brendon Coventry

By targeting cancer treatments to specific phases of the immune cycle, researchers believe they can dramatically improve the chances of complete remission.

It is just over 100 years since Charles Mayo, of Mayo Clinic fame, was exchanging letters with William Coley, a New York surgeon who was using “bacterial toxin” vaccines to successfully treat patients with advanced cancer – even causing complete remission of all cancer in 5–10% of patients. These historical letters from the 1890s are truly instructive.

Lions of the Caribbean

 The red lionfish hides in plain sight using stripes and fins that disrupt the b

The red lionfish hides in plain sight using stripes and fins that disrupt the body shape.

By Oona Lönnstedt & Mark McCormick

Despite the extravagent appearance of red lionfish, these voracious carnivores are virtually undetectable by small prey and are causing massive problems in the Caribbean. So why aren’t they taking over the Great Barrier Reef?

Most of us have seen or at least heard of the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. In this film, a rugged gang of plundering pirates roam the waters of the Caribbean Sea. Luckily, Captain Jack Sparrow comes along and manages to put a halt to the dangerous crew of undead pirates.

Today, the Caribbean is facing an even greater threat than pirates. It is dealing with a seemingly unstoppable predatory fish originally from Australian waters.

Brilliant Memories for Dark Places

haunted house

By Oliver Baumann

We are usually not aware of it, but emotions exert a powerful influence over our memories by playing a key role in determining what we remember and what we forget.

Did you ever wonder why you can remember some places vividly while others seem fuzzy and fade with time? The answer could lie in your emotions.

Most of the episodes we experience in life are tinged to some degree by our emotional responses to them. We experience events that bring us joy, sadness, or make us afraid. Several lines of research now indicate that emotions are key players in controlling the accuracy, vividness and longevity of our memories.

Were dinosaurs warm-blooded?

T. rex

There are several lines of evidence that the basal archosaurs were endotherms

By Roger Seymour

An analysis of muscular power reveals that cold-blooded crocodiles are poor models for our beliefs about dinosaur physiology.

When thinking about dinosaurs, people typically think of large, powerful reptiles that were cold-blooded killers – just like modern crocodiles. The first dinosaur fossils were unquestionably associated with reptiles and just as unquestionably thought to be cold-blooded.

The Sacrificial Urge

Praying

Atheists aren’t immune to an irrational tendency to make sacrifices to a higher power.

By Stephen Luntz

A study finds that atheists will offer sacrifices to appease a higher being even if they experience no benefit – or even a punishment.

A tendency to sacrifice to gods or spirits is a common feature across cultures. “The ancient Greeks burnt pieces of beef as a sacrifice to the gods they wished to please. The Romans sacrificed fruit, cakes, wine, cattle and other domestic animals. The Mayas sacrificed humans, weapons and gold ornaments,” note Prof Paul Frijters of the University of Queensland and World Bank economist Dr Juan Barón in a paper published last year in Economic Record.

The Obesity Paradox

Credit: iStockphoto

Credit: iStockphoto

By Tim Olds

In the past 10 years there has been no increase in the fatness of kids, either in Australia or in many developed countries. At the other end of life, fatter adults are living longer than lean adults. What can be going on?

In August 2006 I asked in this magazine whether the increase in childhood obesity was due to gluttony (kids eating much more now than they used to) or sloth (kids being less active now than they used to be). Contrary to most of my colleagues, I argued that the answer was sloth. There appeared to have been no increase – in fact there was a decrease – in energy intake in children since the end of World War II. I still think I was right on that one, but in the meantime the obesity battlefront has changed a lot.

End of the Epidemic?

Professor Tim Olds is group leader of the University of South Australia’s Health and Use of Time program.

Final Resting Place of an Outlaw

The Baxter/ Kelly skull

The Baxter/ Kelly skull was stolen from the Old Melbourne Gaol in 1978, and handed in to authorities by Tom Baxter in 2009. A tooth, which had been in the family of a workman present at the gaol in 1929, fitted the skull perfectly. Credit: VIFM

By Samir S. Patel

Archaeological and forensic detective work led to the remains of Ned Kelly, one of Australia’s most celebrated, reviled and polarising historical figures.

In the photo taken the day before he was hanged in November 1880, Ned Kelly’s eyes are fixed in a firm, defiant gaze. Though much of his face is hidden beneath a thick beard, it is possible that a little smile plays about his lips. But it’s hard to tell for sure.

I Can Feel Your Pain

iStockphoto

Empathy for pain has conceptual commonalities with synaesthesia. Credit: iStockphoto

By John Bradshaw

Empathy for someone else’s pain shares common characteristics with synaesthesia, a sensory condition where individuals can smell music or taste colours.

In the late 1990s I was contacted by a widow who wanted to know whether there was a scientific explanation for some unusual experiences of her late husband. It seemed that whenever he witnessed someone injure themselves, or show sudden pain, he would involuntarily experience immediate and often excruciating pain in the same body part. Thus if his wife accidentally hit her thumb while hammering, he would call out: “Don’t do that, it really hurts”. He really felt it, she said.

John Bradshaw is Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at Monash University. This article is adapted from a script broadcast on Ockham’s Razor, and has been updated with additional information from Bernadette Fitzgibbon.

The Language of Emotions in Music

The enjoyment of music differs across dementia types.

The enjoyment of music differs across dementia types and could be something important to consider in the application of music therapies.

By Sharpley Hsieh

Patients who have been diagnosed with dementia are helping scientists determine which areas in the brain are necessary for identifying emotions in music.

Music is said to be like shorthand for emotions. The power of music to convey emotion is one of the main reasons people listen to and enjoy music.

The study of music and emotions in music is currently a hot topic in cognitive neuroscience. A number of important findings have surfaced in recent years to answer some important questions.

Sharpley Hsieh is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Frontier Frontotemporal Dementia Research Group at Neuroscience Research Australia.

Escape to Madagascar

Propithecus diadema, the diademed sifaka.  Credit: Mitchell Irwin

Propithecus diadema, the diademed sifaka. Credit: Mitchell Irwin

By Karen Samonds

Madagascar’s bizarre assemblage of fauna didn’t evolve from the fossils found on the island, so how did they get there?

‘‘For naturalists Madagascar is the true Promised Land. Nature seems to have withdrawn there into a private sanctuary, to work on models different from any she has used elsewhere. There you meet the most unusual and marvelous forms at every step . . . What an admirable country, this Madagascar!’’ Joseph-Philibert Commerson, 1771

Karen Samonds is a palaeontologist and Senior Lecturer in the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Queensland.