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.

ATLAS and CMS experiments present Higgs search status

By Various experts

It's far too early to say whether ATLAS and CMS have discovered the Higgs boson, but updated results are generating a lot of interest in the particle physics community.

Dr. Philip Schuster, Faculty, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Canada

Do Soft Drinks Lead to Teen Violence?

By AusSMC (ed.)

A study published in Injury Prevention suggests a link between high fizzy soft drink consumption and violence among teenagers, but how strong is the evidence?

“These findings probably tell us more about the people who drink large volumes of soft drink rather than necessarily suggesting a causal link between soft drink and anti-social behaviour. The study really cries out for more research to understand why heavy use of soft drink may be an indicator of poor behaviour and what are the social conditions that lead to such heavy use. Such a study would also need to look at the impact of alcohol, caffeinated drinks and illicit drugs, which we do know have both an indicator and a causal link.”

Response to the Draft Murray-Darling plan

By Various experts

The Draft Murray-Darling Basin plan has been released.

The Draft Murray-Darling Basin plan has been released and is proposing water use cuts of 2750 GL/year. The plan is based on the premise that the maximum amount of water that can be removed for irrigation, agriculture and drinking water, whilst remaining environmentally sustainable, is 10,873 GL/year.

The draft plan is available online on the Murray-Darling Basin Authority website (http://www.mdba.gov.au/draft-basin-plan/draft-basin-plan-for-consultation). The plan is now open for 20 weeks of consultation.

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Stem Cell Research Loses European Patent Protection

By Martin Pera and Debra Yin Foo

The European Court of Justice has ruled that research involving the removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage – and therefore entailing the destruction of that embryo – cannot be patented. The ruling removes a key commercial incentive for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to back stem-cell research in Europe.

"The decision by the European Union Court of Justice will slow or halt the translation of advances in stem cell research into treatments for patients.

“Though the ruling does not affect Australia directly, we have to recognise that progress in this field depends on international collaboration, particularly in clinical trials. European stem cell scientists are leaders in the field, and everyone will suffer if there are barriers to such collaboration.

Aboriginal Genome Reveals New Insights into Early Humans

By Australian Science Media Centre (Ed.)

What does the genetic sequencing of an ancient Aboriginal man tell us about the ancestry of Aboriginal Australians?

What Does the Hyabusa Asteroid Sample Tell Us?

By Trevor Island

Last year the Hayabusa capsule landed in South Australia with a sample of dust collected from the Itokawa asteroid. The dust has now been analysed and the results of the preliminary investigation published in Science. Here the only Australian involved in the research outlines its significance.

“The Hayabusa mission has provided us with samples of a pristine asteroid – and what a message it contains.

“We can now unequivocally link the asteroids we see in space with meteorites that we collect on land. There have been problems relating the nature of asteroids with meteorites because meteorites are ablated as they come in through the atmosphere. The samples from Itokawa are the previously unknown ‘skin’ of an asteroid.

Status Quo for Australian Stem Cell Science

By AusSMC (ed)

A review of Australian stem cell legislation has recommended that researchers should be allowed to use human embryos to create stem cells but only in licensed research projects.

“The current Australian legislation strikes the right balance between protecting the rights and interests of the donors of the human embryos and providing Australian researchers with access to these valuable stem cells.

“Australian stem cell scientists, along with researchers from around the world, are using human embryonic stem cells to increase our understanding of how the body repairs itself following injury or disease. We are making important steps towards developing new treatments for a number of chronic and currently untreatable conditions.

Sedentary Behaviour in Children Linked to Narrower Blood Vessels in the Eye

By Dr Anu Anuradha and Prof Jo Salmon

A study of children in Sydney suggests that retinal blood vessel narrowing increases with sedentary activity. Children who engaged in more physical activities, such as rugby or cricket, had wider retinal arterioles. The magnitude of vessel narrowing for each hour per day of sedentary behaviour was similar to a 10 mm of mercury rise in systolic blood pressure. Experts independent of the study respond to the research and what it means for children’s health.

“This research conducted in 6-year old children in Sydney, Australia has shown that physical activity is beneficially associated with wider arterioles in the retina of the eye, while greater TV time is adversely associated with narrower arterioles. The eye is a unique site where the small blood vessels of the retina can be seen with the naked eye and photographed. These micro vessels represent those in the rest of the body. As a general rule, narrower arterioles and wider venules are adverse signs when one is examining the small blood vessels of the retina.

Putting a Price on Carbon

By AusSMC

Experts answer questions about the carbon trading scheme announced by the Australian government.

Which countries have set a carbon price, and is Australia leading the way or catching up?

Learning to Count Begins in Infancy

By AusSMC

A team led by a researcher from the University of Queensland assessed how 18 month-old babies responded to videos of counting, and claim they demonstrate that humans begin to learn to count earlier than previously thought.

“I think the study is an interesting one but the title is a bit disconcerting. ‘Learning to count begins in infancy’ resonates with numerous studies tacitly suggesting to non-scientists and non-researchers (everyday parents if you like) that somehow we might tap into this new finding to advance or improve a child’s capacities and long-term educational success.