Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Expert Opinion

Experts pick apart the veracity of claims made in research papers and the media.

Court Upholds Patent for Breast Cancer Gene

A landmark decision by the Federal Court has upheld the validity of patents on the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, with Cancer Voices Australia and cancer survivor Yvonne D’arcy losing their case against US-based Myriad Genetics Inc and Melbourne-based Genetic Technologies.

“My initial reaction is that the judge has given a broad reading of the ‘invention’ requirement in Australian law (referred to as manner of manufacture). Using the language from a 1959 case, he says that what is required is an ‘artificially created state of affairs’ and that without human intervention an isolated DNA sequence does not exist outside the cell.

Getting Stoned May Not Be Making Teens Stupid

A previously reported causal link between teenage marijuana use and a reduction in IQ may be erroneous. A Norwegian researcher re-examined data from the Dunedin longitudinal study of cannabis users in New Zealand and found that the decrease in IQ observed may instead be linked to lower socioeconomic status.

“The approaches differ between these two papers, reflecting the authors’ backgrounds.

“The original paper is led by authors specialising in psychology and psychiatry. They do not consider variables such as socio-economic status (SES), and their statistical analyses rely heavily on strong and untested assumptions. For example, they assume a simple linear relationship between the duration of marijuana smoking and the change in IQ, and their results do not show clearly how confident we can be in the magnitude of the results.

High Levels of Methane Around Coal Seam Gas Fields

Southern Cross University academics have reported unusually high levels of methane around coal seam gas fields in northern NSW and the Tara gas fields in southern Queensland.

Source: AusSMC

To view this article subscribe or purchase a yearly pass here.

Too Much Added Sugar for Young Australians

By various experts

Preliminary research presented at the annual congress of the Australia and New Zealand Obesity Society suggests that intake of “added” sugars is above recommended levels for more than half of young Australians.

“There is a renewed interest in the role of foods high in added sugar on human health, especially in relation to weight gain and obesity. Research in this area is hindered in Australia because our food composition datasets currently do not distinguish between total (both naturally occurring and added during processing) and added sugars.

Gillard announces 3,200 gigalitres back to the Murray

By Various experts

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced a plan to return 3,200 gigalitres of water to the Murray-Darling Basin (an extra 450 billion litres) from 2019. The Gillard Government has pledged $1.7 billion over a decade from 2014.

Long-Term Toxicity of GM Maize

By Compiled by AusSMC

French research published in Food and Chemical Toxicology suggests that rats fed a diet containing a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize died more frequently and earlier than control groups. The study also suggests that females developed mammary tumours more often than and before controls.

To view this article subscribe or purchase a yearly pass here.

Dark Chocolate and Cocoa May Reduce Blood Pressure

By Various experts

Australian researchers have found that dark chocolate and cocoa powder have a small but statistically significant effect in lowering blood pressure in the short term. The authors say there is a need for long-term trials to determine whether or not blood pressure is reduced on a chronic basis by eating cocoa every day.

High blood pressure is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, contributing to about half the cardiovascular events, such as strokes and heart attacks, worldwide and around a third of cardiovascular-related deaths. Evidence from epidemiological studies has suggested that cocoa might reduce this risk, the possible explanation being that cocoa contains flavonols, which are responsible for the formation of nitric oxide in the body, and nitric oxide causes blood vessel walls to relax and open wider, thereby reducing blood pressure.

New plain packaging research - experts respond

By various experts

As New Zealand deliberates over the introduction of 'plain packaging' for cigarettes, a new study confirms that such measures reduce the appeal of tobacco products.

Scientists from Canada, the US, and Brazil have conducted a study of 640 young Brazilian women to determine if cigarettes had the same appeal when presented in plain packaging.

Dr David Hammond from the University of Waterloo, Canada, who led this study explained:

New Report Card for Australia’s Marine Environment

By Various experts

A massive effort involving 80 Australian scientists from 34 institutions has produced a report card for Australia’s marine environment.

The Marine Climate Change in Australia Report Card 2012 looks at a range of indicators such as ocean temperatures, acidity and the strength of critical ocean currents and relates these to changes in marine biodiversity such as the southward movement of fish and other marine organisms. Several independent experts as well as several who contributed to the report respond.

Contributing author comments:
Dr Elvira Poloczanska is a senior researcher with the CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship and is an overall lead author of the report.

State of the Climate 2011 Report – Experts Respond

By Various experts

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a large global report on the state of the climate in July. The report involved 11 Australian scientists, and focused on extreme weather events and the strong La Niña that brought wet conditions to many parts of the world.

“Most notably, the Arctic continues to warm at a very rapid rate – around twice the rate of warming compared with the rest of the planet... Arctic sea-ice extent was the second lowest on record at the end of the 2011 summer, and is tracking at lowest on record for 2012. In addition, the ocean heat content, a measure of heat stored in the oceans, was also in record territory during 2011, and continues another well-established long-term warming trend.