Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


Feature article

Which Pregnant Women Are at Risk?

Credit: Olesia Bilkei/Adobe

Credit: Olesia Bilkei/Adobe

By Claire Roberts & Tina Bianco-Miotto

A new screening test can identify the risk of pregnancy complications based on a genetic test in conjunction with lifestyle factors.

Women who are pregnant for the first time are largely unaware that the four main complications of pregnancy – pre­eclampsia, preterm birth, intrauterine growth restriction and gestational diabetes – occur in one-quarter of first pregnancies. Worryingly, the number of these pregnancy complications is rising, and they contribute to poor health outcomes for mothers and babies in both the short and long term.

How to Recruit 23 Million Scientists

Credit: Stuart Harris

Credit: Stuart Harris

By Carla Sbrocchi, Gretta Pecl, Chris Gillies & Philip Roetman

Partnerships between scientists and everyday Australians are changing the face of scientific discovery and exploration.

David Attenborough is talking about it, Brian Cox is talking about it, and it’s being talked about all across Australia. Citizen science, the process of engaging the public in scientific enquiry, has undergone a renaissance in recent times and is playing a critical role in re-engaging society in the sciences.

The potential for citizen science to unlock public interest in science in Australia is huge. Already there are more than 130,000 Australians active in at least 170 citizen science projects, with the number and scope of projects rapidly increasing.

Strangers on the Shore

rock art

Ships depicted in the rock art of Arnhem Land indicate the influence of Makassan mariners in the region.

By Daryl Wesley & Sue O’Connor

New analysis of rock art and other artefacts found in northern Australia are revealing the timing and extent of an ancient aquaculture industry developed by South-East Asian mariners.

It was during the first English forays to northern Australia that the presence of South-East Asian mariners along the coast of Arnhem Land became known to the English colony in New South Wales. At first the role of these visitors to the north Australian coast, predominantly from the Indonesian port of Makassar in southern Sulawesi, was poorly understood.

Is Milk Causing Breast Cancer?


Geoscientist Jane Plant attributes her remission from cancer to cutting diary from her diet. Is there any scientific basis to this?

By Matthew Flavel

Is there any basis to claims that a dairy-free diet can prevent breast cancer?

Milk and breasts are unlikely enemies. However, geoscientist Jane Plant has a different view. Plant contracted breast cancer in 1987 and for 6 years she experienced the remission and relapse cycle of the cancer an agonising five times before making a drastic change: she cut dairy products from her diet entirely.

This serious decision was based on a link she drew between the low-incidence of breast cancer in China and their populations’ incidental low consumption of dairy. Within 6 weeks of this new diet – and her continued chemotherapy treatment – the lump was gone.

Science Funding Attracts a Crowd

Science Funding Attracts a Crowd

By Tina Thorburn

Crowdfunded scientific research has hit Australia as researchers communicate and engage with the public in exchange for their funds and their faith.

It’s the day after Halloween, and Dr Melanie Thomson is preparing something that would make any trick-or-treater scream. Mixing horse blood and agar, Thomson carefully pours the “blood jelly” into containers to set.

At the same time, in Sydney’s Westmead Hospital, little maggots hatch from their eggs. These squirming larvae are not destined to become buzzing flies that irritate picnickers – these maggots are special. They’re medical maggots, and Thomson is preparing a feast for them.

Tolerate Thy Neighbour

cane toad

While adult cane toads are poisonous to terrestrial animals, their eggs and tadpoles are just as lethal to aquatic species. Credit: brian.gratwicke

By Georgina Caller

Cane toads have been wiping out native species, but one fish species has learnt to avoid toxic toadpoles.

For as long as humans have been moving around the world they have been taking other species with them. We have moved hundreds of thousands of vertebrates, invertebrate and microorganisms from the places they naturally evolved to new environments.

When the Devil’s Away the Possums Will Play

A large male Tasmanian devil with advanced facial tumours

A large male Tasmanian devil with advanced facial tumours, the disease that has caused widespread and severe decline across the devil’s range.

By Tracey Hollings and Menna Jones

Brushtail possums are boldly venturing away from the safety of trees to forage on the ground as an unprecedented transmissible cancer removes their major predator, the Tasmanian devil.

Large predators are vanishing worldwide due to their vulnerability to habitat loss, emerging diseases and persecution. Predators protect biodiversity, and their loss has been attributed to changes in vegetation communities and the decline and even extinction of small wildlife.

Measuring the effects that big predators have on ecosystems is difficult because they live at large scales. “Natural experiments” – where environmental change occurs in the wild – offer an opportunity to observe large-scale ecosystem change and investigate the influence of large predators on ecosystems.

The Changing Role of IP in Genomics

Credit: Sergey Nivens/adobe

Credit: Sergey Nivens/adobe

By Dianne Nicol

Recent court decisions have overturned previous rulings about genetic patents, but other intellectual property regimes are already taking their place.

Born Too Soon


Credit: herjua/iStockphoto

By Sarah Robertson & Mark Hutchinson

Each year a million babies die after premature birth, but researchers have now identified a potential treatment.

Premature birth is defined as birth before 37 completed weeks of gestation. It is now identified by the World Health Organisation as the number one global killer of children under 5 years of age, with a high prevalence in Australia (8%) and even higher rates in many developing countries and the US, where up to 12% of babies are preterm. Every year around the world, 15 million babies are born prematurely and one million of those will die.

Australia’s First Dingo


The low genetic diversity observed in dingoes indicates that present-day populations might be derived from an isolated colonisation event that involved just a single pregnant female. Credit: Sam Fraser-Smith/Wikimedia Commons

By Joanne Wright & David Lambert

Genetic analyses suggest that in a single colonising event the dingo reached Australia during the Holocene. Since rising seas had already inundated the land bridge connecting Australia to South-East Asia, the dingo must have been accompanying an ancient human sailor.

Australia has some of the earliest evidence of human habitation outside Africa, with initial settlement dated between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago. Much of our knowledge of the prehistory of Australia’s first people, the Aboriginal Australians, comes from archaeological remnants such as tools, shell middens, rock art, and the remains of the people themselves.