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Big Bang Theory

Michio Kaku

This month Kaku is bringing his stage talks to Australia in a series of “fireside chats” followed by questions and answers in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

By Stephen Luntz

String theory inventor Michio Kaku talks to Australasian Science about the recent discovery of gravitational waves, the search for parallel universes and a unified theory of everything.

Professor Michio Kaku’s specialisation as a physicist was in string theory, one of the areas of science that the general public finds hardest to fathom. So there is a certain irony in the fact that Kaku now helps millions of people understand every scientific field through radio, documentaries and books.

Could an Algal Toxin Cause Motor Neurone Disease?

Could an Algal Toxin Cause Motor Neurone Disease?

By Rachael Dunlop

It’s long been thought that blue-green algae might cause several brain diseases. Now a missing piece in the puzzle has been found.

Four years ago my supervisor, Dr Ken Rodgers, called me to a meeting. An ethnobotanist from the US was in town and he wanted to meet us. He’d read one of our papers and had an idea for a collaboration.

I’m what is known as a basic scientist, which means that I stand at a bench and poke cells with stuff to see how they might react. I don’t work with patients or with animal models. But years of training and poking have sharpened my skills, and what I do know back-to-front is how cells work.

No Honey, Not Tonight: Why and How Female Animals Avoid Sex

Female Lake Eyre dragon lizards will flip over onto their backs to prevent males

Female Lake Eyre dragon lizards will flip over onto their backs to prevent males from mounting them.

By Devi Stuart-Fox

So much of our obsession with sex revolves around how to get it, and how often, but the females of many animal species have evolved remarkable adaptations to avoid it. Why?

In the animal world, females can go to impressive lengths to avoid sex. The explanation lies in a conflict of interest between males and females over how often to mate.

In general, males pass on more of their genes if they mate with as many different partners as possible, but that’s not the case for females, whose eggs are finite in number. This “battle of the sexes” over the frequency of mating has led to some remarkable male strategies to get sex – and female counter-strategies to avoid it.

Devi Stuart-Fox is Senior Lecturer in The University of Melbourne’s Zoology Department.

How Isotopes Traced Ötzi’s Origins

Scientific examination of the mummy. 
© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/ EURAC/ Samadelli/ Staschitz

Scientific examination of the mummy. © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/ EURAC/ Samadelli/ Staschitz

By Alf Larcher

Some stunning analytical chemistry has revealed the story of Ötzi, whose frozen, partly battered remains were hacked from a glacier on the Austro-Italian border after 5000 years.

While hiking in the southern Austrian mountains very close to northern Italy in October 1991, Erika and Helmut Simon stumbled across the top half of a human corpse protruding from glacial ice. Local authorities thought it was a hiker missing in the area some years back, and “hacked” the corpse (initially with a jackhammer) out of the ice, resulting in it sustaining some damage. Along with some then unidentified materials which were collected and bagged, the corpse was taken for closer inspection to the University of Innsbruck, Austria.

Ruling the Roost

While there has been a huge effort to try and sanitise the processing of chicken meat to eliminate bacterial contamination, they still persist in low numbers. Credit: roibu/Adobe

While there has been a huge effort to try and sanitise the processing of chicken meat to eliminate bacterial contamination, they still persist in low numbers. Credit: roibu/Adobe

By Tamsyn Crowley & Ben Wade

More than four million Australians suffer from food poisoning each year, many due to bacterial contamination of poultry products. Now nanotechnology is being tested as an alternative to antibiotic use in chickens prior to processing.

It’s a story that will be familiar to many of us. Possibly it started with a night out with friends: a few drinks, good company and, seemingly, great food. But later on, maybe that night or perhaps the following morning, it starts. The cold sweat, stomach pain, the vomiting and nausea. You’ve got a bout of food poisoning.

Big Questions about Little Hominins

The skull of Homo floresiensis (right) is much smaller than ours (left).

The skull of Homo floresiensis (right) is much smaller than ours (left), but other evidence supports that it is a new hominid species and not a modern human that suffered from a genetic or pathological condition. Credit: Debbie Argue

By Debbie Argue

The discovery of diminutive human fossils in Indonesia has challenged paradigms in human evolution – and has therefore been highly controversial. How strong is the evidence that Homo floresiensis is a separate species and not a stunted modern human?

Breath of Life: How a Jetlag Treatment Could Prevent Permanent Newborn Brain Damage

baby

Childbirth causes short periods of time without access to oxygen for the baby. Permanent damage can occur if something goes wrong and the oxygen supply is low for too long.

By James Aridas

A common jetlag treatment in a simple skin patch could be the key to improving the lives of babies all around the world.

Every year, four million babies are born starved of oxygen. The consequences of this compromised birth are severe. Half of the babies do not make it past the first days or weeks of life, and those who do survive will most likely be severely disabled.

But sometimes the simplest answer is the best. We have been researching the use of melatonin in a skin patch to prevent permanent brain damage in the hours after birth.

After the Oil Spill

oil spill

The oil spill at Montara lasted for 74 days.

By Asa Wahlquist

Just 4 years after the Montara oil spill, scientists have compiled the most detailed description yet of the wildlife, fish and habitats of the Timor Sea as they monitor the recovery of the species affected by the spill.

Dozens of scientists and researchers have produced a scientifically rigorous set of findings on turtles, sea snakes and commercial fish species of the Timor Sea; on bird populations; on corals and mangroves; and on Australia’s the north-west coastline, as well as an array of tiny islands, shoals and cays.

Sex without Seed

Mouse-ear hawkweed can clone itself through its seeds.

Mouse-ear hawkweed can clone itself through its seeds.

By Dyani Lewis

Plant biologists are finding ways to retain hybrid vigour in important crops by generating clonal seed.

On the alpine slopes of New Zealand’s South Island, an innocuous-looking yellow flower, not dissimilar to a daisy in appearance, has invaded the terrain. A native of Europe and the central Asian steppe, mouse-ear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) has successfully colonised disturbed landscapes around the globe, contaminating pastures and out-competing native plants for ecological real estate. In New Zealand, Australia and many states of the US, it is classified as a noxious and invasive weed.

Dyani Lewis is a freelance science writer.

The Social Lives of Sharks

A group of Port Jackson sharks under kelp at their mating aggregation site in Jervis Bay, NSW. Credit: Johann Mourier

A group of Port Jackson sharks under kelp at their mating aggregation site in Jervis Bay, NSW. Credit: Johann Mourier

By Culum Brown

Tracking technology reveals that Port Jackson sharks have buddies of similar age and gender, and can navigate across Bass Strait to the same breeding grounds.

Sharks have an interesting place in our collective psyche. People have always feared sharks, but ever since Hollywood’s depiction of white sharks in the movie Jaws, our fear has been magnified.

Much of this fear is irrational, even in countries where white sharks do occasionally kill people. In Australia, only 47 people have been killed by sharks over the past 50 years, an average of 0.9 per year. Far more people are killed by horses (7.7 deaths per year), cows (3.3 deaths per year) and dogs (2.7 deaths per year). Kangaroos and bees are next on the list.