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Children of the Ice Age

Reconstruction of three Palaeolithic girls playing with a doll. Painted by Tom Björklund

Reconstruction of three Palaeolithic girls playing with a doll. Painted by Tom Björklund

By Michelle Langley

What did kids play with 20,000 years ago? New research suggests that figurines long thought to have been ritual icons may actually be children’s toys.

Trying to find evidence for what children were doing during the Palaeolithic period of Europe 45,000 to 11,000 years ago is a relatively new aspect of archaeological research. So far, researchers have been able to find traces of children learning how to make stone tools and perhaps training to become artists, but those items that we most strongly associate with childhood – toys – are yet to be located.

Mining Minerals in Space

Delphotostock

Credit: Delphotostock

By Serkan Saydam

Space is a vast source of valuable minerals that could soon propel an extraterrestrial mining industry that underpins a colony on Mars.

Mineral resources on the Earth have been exploited for the past 7000 years and have contributed to social and economic prosperity. Wherever there are valuable minerals, people will arrive to mine them – even if they must combat extreme conditions and take excessive risks.

Will Genomics Motivate Healthy Behaviours?

Credit: Marek/adobe

Credit: Marek/adobe

By Amelia Smit & Anne Cust

Will communicating the genetic risks of disease necessarily motivate people to make healthier behaviour choices?

Healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, doing physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, using sunscreen, refraining from smoking and heavy drinking, and adhering to screening programs, are widely acknowledged as ways to prevent and reduce the risk of common health conditions and diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Despite this awareness, the number of people suffering from preventable diseases continues to increase in populations across the world.

Future Chemistry from the Distant Past

Credit: bluebay2014/Adobe

Credit: bluebay2014/Adobe

By James Behrendorff, Yosephine Gumulya & Elizabeth Gillam

Enzymes resurrected from the past can survive tough industrial conditions better than their modern-day counterparts, leading to safer drugs and better biofuels.

Enzymes are protein-based catalysts that allow the chemistry of life to occur on reasonable timescales. Without them, life as we know it would not be possible. The breadth of chemical reactions catalysed by enzymes is staggering. It’s the basis to all the biochemical diversity seen in nature, like the flavours and fragrances found in foods, the drugs isolated from natural sources, and the powerful hormones that regulate growth and development.

Going Gluten-Free: Only for Coeliac Disease?

Going Gluten-Free: Only for Coeliac Disease?

By Michael Potter

Dietary trials have revealed that most people who associate gluten with intestinal discomfort do not have a reliable and reproducible response to gluten ingestion, and may even be harming their health by going on a gluten-free diet.

Wheat is central to the modern diet. Wheat crops cover hundreds of millions of acres of arable land, and wheat provides one-fifth of the world’s intake of calories. A revolution in agricultural practices, including the development of high-yield varieties of wheat at the start of the 20th century, saw an increase in grain production that has helped fuel a population boom; the world’s population has increased fivefold in the past 100 years.

Driving Mosquitoes out of Town

Credit: nechaevkon/Adobe

Credit: nechaevkon/Adobe

By Jack Scanlan

Existing techniques to control mosquito-borne diseases are coming up short. Can gene drives offer hope to the millions affected?

It might come as a surprise that one of the biggest threats to global health is a seemingly harmless, albeit annoying, insect. The mosquito, the scourge of summer barbecues, causes more human deaths than any other animal – far surpassing sharks, snakes and even human murderers – by passing diseases to its victims while feasting on their blood.

Cobalt Blues

Credit: iStockphoto/ogalT

Credit: iStockphoto/ogalT

By Dave Sammut

The spring racing carnival commences this month, but behind the glitz and glamour is a bitter legal case as horse trainers appeal bans for allegedly doping their horses. Dave Sammut examines the effects of cobalt and the science underpinning allowable thresholds.

Public scandals of doping in sport have become legendary. A tiny minority of competitors seek unfair advantage through the misuse of therapeutic and other drugs, and this creates problems for all. The fall of Western greats such as Ben Johnson and Lance Armstrong and the 2015 suspension of the entire Russian athletics federation from international competition show that this is a global sporting issue.

Indigenous Genomics

Indigenous Genomics

By Emma Kowal, Simon Easteal & Mick Gooda

Mistrust is a significant but not insurmountable barrier to the acceptance of genomics by Indigenous people.

In 1994 Indigenous people around the world raised the alarm about scientists who wanted to steal their biological material, patent it and make drugs from it. The scientists were part of the Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP), a companion project to the Human Genome Project that completed sequencing of the entire human genome in 2001.

New Defence Act Handcuffs Science

handcuffs

Under the Act, publication, discussion or communication of research without a Defence permit will be punishable by up to 10 years jail, a $425,000 fine and forfeiture of research to the government.

By Brendan Jones

Australian scientists risk huge fines and even imprisonment under new laws that will give Defence bureaucrats extraordinary powers over their research.

From 17 May 2015, when the Defence Trade Controls Act (DTCA) comes into effect, the federal Department of Defence will gain control over a very large share of high-tech and science research in Australia. Under the Act, publication, discussion or communication of research without a Defence permit will be punishable by up to 10 years jail, a $425,000 fine and forfeiture of research to the government. This includes scientists, academics, librarians, engineers, high-tech workers and companies that have never had a prior relationship with the Department of Defence.

Why We’re Still Voting on Paper

Credit: Elections ACT

A single-use swipe card gives Canberrans access to the electronic ballot for the ACT elections. Credit: Elections ACT

By Stephen Luntz

Electronic voting has been in place for more than a decade, so why are we still using pencil and paper for this year’s federal election?

Despite all the technological advances of recent years, this year’s federal election will be conducted in a manner barely changed from a century before.

While far more people now vote at prepolling centres, the act of voting is still done with pencil and paper – something almost archaic to most of our usual practices. Many may wonder whether the electoral commission is stuck in some pre-computing Dark Age, but there are good reasons why voting continues to be done in the time-honoured manner while the rest of our lives shifts online.