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.

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


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


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.

The Mouse with Two Fathers


US scientists have produced mice from two fathers using stem cell technology.

The researchers used a type of cell from a male mouse known as a fibroblast to produce stem cells. A portion of these stem cells spontaneously lost their Y chromosome so they only contained an X chromosome. These stem cells were then injected into embryos from donor female mice and were transplanted into surrogate mothers. The offspring of these mice were then mated with normal male mice. Some of the offspring were male and female mice that had genetic contributions from two fathers. The research was published in Biology of Reproduction.

More evidence that Alzheimer's-like brain damage can be 'caught'


It is possible that amyloid beta pathology, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, can be transmitted through contaminated human growth hormone.

A study published in Nature (see the link below) found that specific batches of contaminated human growth hormone, linked to the death of several patients from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) were also contaminated with amyloid beta protein, a substance thought to play a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease. When the samples were injected into mice, they produced a amyloid beta pathology, providing evidence that amyloid beta pathology can be transmitted through human growth hormone.

Australia's proposed encryption laws


New laws proposed by the Australian Government target communication services and device makers, and include the power for police to force companies to disclose encrypted information on devices like phones, computers and social media platforms. Apple has called the draft legislation “dangerously ambiguous”, saying that the Coalition's attempt to weaken digital encryption should be “alarming to all Australians”.

"Security by design is essential and we are not very good at it in the first place. Weakening any security control by design is, therefore, a bad idea. Cyber criminals are vigilantly seeking vulnerabilities in our devices, social media services, and all forms of telecommunications we rely upon and use daily. If we leave an intentional backdoor, they will find it. Once it is discovered it is usually not easy to fix.