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The Future of Pest Control Lies Within (the Pest)

Credit: Vera Kuttelvaserova/Adobe

Credit: Vera Kuttelvaserova/Adobe

By Alexandre Fournier-Level

Gene drives could improve global food security by turning pest biology against itself.

Between 1845 and 1847, the potato blight (Phytophtora infestans) ravaged Ireland, where potato was the staple crop, causing the death of more than a million people and forcing the emigration of another two million. The Great Famine added another hallmark to the long list of plagues humanity has faced, along with the plagues of Egypt in the Bible or locust plagues during the Yuan and Ming dynasties.

Autism Genes Exist in Us All

Credit: ktsdesign/adobe

Credit: ktsdesign/adobe

By Marie-Jo Brion

A new study has found that genetic factors underlying autism are present in everyone and are influencing our behaviour.

How genetically different are individuals diagnosed with autism compared with non-autistic people in the general population? According to a new study into the genetics of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), there may be more similarities than previously thought.

Brave New Embryology

Credit: Mopic/Adobe

After 30 years of IVF, only around 25% of the embryos created have the capacity to develop to term. Credit: Mopic/Adobe

By Chris O’Neill

New technologies are being developed to improve fertility, but the effects on the embryo are uncertain.

The development of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) for the treatment of infertility has opened up new and unexpected methods of alleviating disease. Creating embryos in a test tube allows the diagnosis of most known genetic conditions within days of fertilisation, and new gene editing techniques offer the prospect of correcting these conditions.

Kissing Cousins: Why Haven’t Arranged Marriage Laws Reduced Human Genetic Diversity?

Credit: Elka Lesmono

Credit: Elka Lesmono

By Murray Cox

Many traditional communities, including our ancestors, have long enforced marriage between first cousins. Why hasn’t this had a negative impact on genetic diversity?

In the middle of the rainy season in 1975, cultural anthropologist Gregory Forth walked into the village of Rindi on the small island of Sumba in eastern Indonesia. For 2 years he studied the social rules, ethnography and environment of this remote community, including the cultural meaning of their distinctive house styles and megalithic monuments. He also recorded their intricate customs and rules around marriage.

The Evolving Story of Heredity

A female neriid fly (bottom right) lays eggs on rotten tree bark while her mate fights off an interloper. Credit: Russell Bonduriansky

A female neriid fly (bottom right) lays eggs on rotten tree bark while her mate fights off an interloper. Credit: Russell Bonduriansky

By Angela Crean & Russell Bonduriansky

Biologists are discovering that there is a lot more to heredity than genes. In the latest twist, it turns out that offspring size in an Australian fly species can be determined by the diet of its mother’s previous mating partner.

As evolutionary biologists, we are interested in variability. What causes similarities and differences among individuals? Where does this variation come from? How is variation transmitted across generations?

The High Price of Obsolete Science

Misplaced fear of radiation and accidents is impacting our response to climate d

Misplaced fear of radiation and accidents is impacting our response to climate destabilisation.

By Geoff Russell

The anti-nuclear movement co-opted the environment movement on the strength of theories about DNA, radiation and cancer that have long been proven false.

The anti-nuclear movement grew out of the anti-war movement and opposition to atmospheric testing during the late 1950s. In particular, Nobel Prize-winner Linus Pauling calculated what he thought would be the number of cancers and birth defects that would result from the radiation released by atomic bombs detonated in the atmosphere. The maths would have impressed any non-mathematician, but the underlying assumptions about DNA damage and its carcinogenic implications are now known to be false.

The Ancient African Coins of Arnhem Land

Kilwa coins

With the Kilwa coins, we have potential evidence of much earlier contacts that challenge the Captain Cook-centred view of Australian history that prioritises English and some Dutch discoveries.

By Ian McIntosh

Indigenous knowledge is informing a scientific expedition that hopes to uncover the origins of medieval African coins that may have been left in Arnhem Land hundreds of years before the arrival of Cook.

I first learned about the Kilwa coins in the late 1980s when I lived on the Yolngu community of Elcho Island in north-east Arnhem Land. I was working closely with the traditional owner of the Wessel Islands, the late David Burrumarra MBE, on issues of social justice, sea rights and reconciliation. Burrumarra and I even toyed with the idea of mounting an expedition to try and solve the mystery of how ancient coins from East Africa ended up in his homeland more than 8000 km away.

Organs by Inkjet

Inkjet printers can already print living cells.

Inkjet printers can already print living cells.

By Cameron Ferris

The development of a new biological ink takes us one step closer to the goal of printing living cells in three dimensions to create whole organs.

Advances in medical devices and our ability to transplant tissues and organs from one patient to another have significantly improved the quality and longevity of life, but these approaches don’t provide all the answers. Artificial devices can be short-lived and don’t function exactly like a living tissue, while organ transplants are complicated by issues with rejection and a critical shortage of donors.

Cameron Ferris is an Associate Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, University of Wollongong (http://www.electromaterials.edu.au).

Gene Drives: A Fork in the Road for the GMO Debate

Gene Drives: A Fork in the Road for the GMO Debate

By Charles Robin

What are the moral and ethical concerns about gene drives, and how should the technology be regulated?

At the end of last year, a United Nations bio­diversity meeting rejected calls for a moratorium on gene drives. In the months before that meeting, a letter signed by eminent and well-respected biologists including Jane Goodall and David Suzuki asserted that the use of gene drives in natural populations “is a moral and ethical threshold that must not be crossed without great constraint”.

This raises two very important issues. What are the moral and ethical issues? And in what way should the technology be regulated?

Early and Delayed Motherhood Linked to Schizophrenia Risk

Credit: Monkey Business

Credit: Monkey Business

By Sang Hong Lee

A mother’s age when she gives birth is associated with her child’s likelihood of developing schizophrenia, but is this because psychosocial factors associated with the mother's age affect her child's risk, or because women with a higher genetic risk for schizophrenia are more likely to have their first child at an early or late age?

It’s well-known that the age of a child’s parents is a risk factor for a range of mental health issues in children, including common psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia. The age of the father has received the most attention, with risk to children widely assumed to be explained by mutations that occur more frequently in older fathers’ DNA, although other studies question this belief.