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Feature article

How Toxic Is Traditional Bush Tucker in the Alps?

moths with popcorn

Popcorn with Bogong moths (pop-moth) is hardly a “traditional” bush tucker recipe, but is it contaminated with arsenic?

By Susan Lawler & Pettina Love

Bogong moths are not only traditional bush tucker for indigenous people, but they are also important food for many alpine species. But does the discovery that they contain elevated levels of arsenic pose any real dangers to indigenous people or the high country ecosystem?

Bogong moths are best known for the problems they cause when they arrive in our cities in large numbers. They interrupted the Sydney Olympics and attacked Parliament House during a visit by former US President, George Bush. These incidents occur because the moths migrate in large numbers at certain times of the year and are attracted to lights. Any well-lit building in the path of their migration will become inundated with moths for several days.

Susan Lawler is Head of the Department of Environmental Management and Ecology at La Trobe University’s Wodonga campus, and supervised PhD student Pettina Love, a member of the Bundjalung Nation, in this research.

Rapid Evolution? The Eyes Have It

A fossil compound eye, around 515 million years old, from the Emu Bay Shale.

A fossil compound eye, around 515 million years old, from the Emu Bay Shale on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. The individual lenses would have numbered over 3000, with the largest in the centre forming a light-sensitive “bright zone”. Image credit: John Paterson

By Michael Lee & John Paterson

The discovery of exquisite fossils on Kangaroo Island reveal that complex eyes evolved very rapidly during evolution’s Big Bang, the Cambrian explosion, half a billion years ago.

Soon after he presented overwhelming evidence for evolution by natural selection in On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin confided in a letter to a close colleague: “The eye, to this day, gives me a cold shudder”. He was concerned whether such a complex, integrated organ as the eye could have evolved in incremental steps by random mutation and blind natural selection.

Michael Lee is senior research scientist at the South Australian Museum and University of Adelaide. John Paterson is senior lecturer at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW.

Is Cancer the Next of Kin to the Developing Foetus?


Mutations in the PAX genes lead to developmental abnormalities of organs and tissues in which they are switched on.

By Mike Eccles

A gene that is important for the development of the foetus may hold new clues to how cancer cell division gets out of control, and guide the identification of new targets for cancer therapy.

Genes that are critically involved in the development of the foetus can sometimes go out of control, and when that happens they may become associated with cancer. While this idea is not new, it has been borne out by a multitude of examples over the past few decades of cancer research. Understanding its significance may provide answers to stop many cancers in their tracks.

Professor Mike Eccles is NZICRT Chair in Cancer Pathology in the Department of Pathology, Dunedin School of Medicine, the University of Otago.

Gestational Diabetes: The Effects Don’t Stop at Birth


Mice born to diabetic mothers were prone to obesity even though they exercised as much as normal mice and even ate less. Image: iStockphoto

By Sue Mei Lau & Jenny Gunton

Jenny Gunton is a Senior Research Fellow with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research’s Diabetes and Transcription Factors Group.

New research explains why the children of mothers who develop diabetes during pregnancy have increased risks of obesity and diabetes themselves.

Diabetes is a condition characterised by high blood glucose levels. The hormone insulin, produced by the β cells of the pancreas, makes glucose move out of the blood and into the cells of the body, where it is used for fuel. Diabetes occurs when there is not enough insulin to control blood glucose adequately.

There are three main types of diabetes.

Jenny Gunton is a Senior Research Fellow with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research’s Diabetes and Transcription Factors Group.

Decoding the Genome of the Tammar Wallaby

Wallaby neonate

The wallaby genome contains 1500 genes associated with smell, which the neonate uses to locate a teat in its mother’s pouch.

By Tony Papenfuss & Marilyn Renfree

The sequencing of the tammar wallaby genome has provided fascinating insights into its unique reproductive and immune systems.

The tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) is a small kangaroo. It is abundant on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, and is also found on the Abrolhos Islands, Garden Island and the Recherche Archipelago in Western Australia, as well as a few areas in the south-west corner of the mainland.

Tony Papenfuss and Marilyn Renfree are with the Bioinformatic Division of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and the University of Melbourne’s Department of Zoology.

Peer Review: Can We Rely On It?


A paper published in Nature Neuroscience has been widely criticised after discussing the release of the painkilling molecule adenosine when acupuncture needles were applied to mice and rotated behind the knee at what, in humans, acupuncturists call the Zusanli point. However, the paper did not conduct any control studies, such as whether the same levels of adenosine were released when needles were applied away from acupuncture locations. See box below.

By Stephen Luntz

Science depends on peer review. Is sloppy or hurried review a serious problem, and if so what can we do to fix it?

More than a million papers are published in peer-reviewed journals each year, so it is hardly surprising that some mistakes are made. While some journals are notorious for publishing anything that suits the editors’ ideological bent, errors are not limited to journals that are obscure or are published by an organisation with a particular agenda.

Towards an HIV Vaccine

HIV vaccine

A safe effective vaccine against HIV remains the “holy grail” of vaccine researchers. Source: iStockphoto

By Ivan Stratov and Stephen Kent

Potent antibodies force the HIV virus to mutate, opening up a new strategy for producing an effective HIV vaccine.

Ever since human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was revealed as the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) 25 years ago, scientists have been trying to make a vaccine to prevent it. It was only in 2009 that a glimmer of light appeared at the end of what had been a very dark tunnel, full of dead ends and disappointments.

Ivan Stratov and Stephen Kent are conducting their research at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

From Greenhouse to Icehouse

An Expedition 318 scientist observes an iceberg.

An Expedition 318 scientist observes an iceberg. Credit: John Beck, IODP-USIO

By Kevin Welsh

An ambitious drilling expedition off the coast of East Antarctica is looking for evidence linking declining carbon dioxide levels with the glaciation of subtropical Antarctica 34 million years ago.

Kevin Welsh is an associate lecturer at the University of Queensland’s School of Earth Sciences. He would like to thank the expedition Co-chiefs Carlota Escutia (Universidad de Granada), Henk Brinkhuis (Utrecht University), Rob Dunbar (Stanford University), Staff Scientist Adam Klaus (Texas A&M University) and the EXP318 Scientists. The initial results of the expedition are now published on the IODP website (

When the World Is Turned Upside-Down

Sad boy

One in ten children will continue to suffer from serious distress after a traumatic experience. Image: iStockphoto

By Eva Alisic

When children are exposed to a traumatic event, most of them experience distress but eventually recover. Which factors predict persistent problems?

Eva Alisic did her PhD research in The Netherlands and is currently a Larkins Fellow at Monash University.

Our Oldest Ancestor: Putting Meat on the Bones

The hand bones of an adult female Au. sediba

The hand bones of an adult female Au. sediba as they were found in the matrix at Malapa, South Africa: An almost complete right hand was found clustered together with the rest of the upper limb. © Peter Schmid, courtesy of Wits University

By Paul Dirks

Last year scientists thought they had found the “missing link” in the evolution of apes to humans. Now they have dated the fossils precisely between the last occurrence of Australopithecus and the first members of the genus Homo, and described anatomical features that suggest it is indeed a transitional species.

Since its discovery in August 2008, the site of Malapa in Johannesburg has yielded more than 220 bones of early hominins representing at least six individuals, including the remains of babies, juveniles and adults.

And now there’s something else, something very significant.

As lead geologist on the team that found MH1 and MH2 in caves at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, I’m pleased to announce we have now accurately dated these individuals, and can reveal several findings that cast doubt on long-held theories about human evolution.

What We’ve Discovered

Paul Dirks is Head of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at James Cook University. This article was first published in The Conversation (