Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Up Front

Germline Editing Faces a Speed Bump

By Guy Nolch

Will a moratorium on germline editing simply be sidestepped?

The disturbing revelation late last year that Chinese biophysicist Dr He Jiankui had edited embryos to create at least two babies has led 18 scientists and ethicists from seven countries to call for a moratorium on heritable genome editing (

Transplant Studies Execute “Ethics Dump”

By Guy Nolch

The organs of executed Chinese prisoners have been widely used to bypass ethical guidelines restricting Western researchers.

The spectre of the “mad scientist” raised its ugly head last November when Chinese scientist Dr He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology announced the birth of the first human babies whose genomes had been edited at the embryonic stage of development. The university claimed to have no knowledge of He’s project, which had been conducted off-campus, and fired him, while Chinese authorities described He’s work as “extremely abominable in nature” and “guarded” him at his home 24/7.

Cold Case for a National Genetic Database

By Guy Nolch

If we won’t share our medical history across the health system, it’s hard to see Australians handing over their genetic profile.

In November, the federal government extended the opt-out deadline for My Health Record following a public backlash against the system, which enables digital health records to be accessed across the healthcare network. Throughout our lives we change GPs and have medical crises far from home, so it’s easy to see the logic in giving doctors access to our entire medical history, no matter where or when we need it.

Don’t Bite the Hand that Funds

By Guy Nolch

Corporate interests have a heavy hand in how research is designed, conducted and reported.

In February 2017, the American Association for the Advancement of Science staged the launch of the Brussels Declaration (, which Nature described as a “20-point blueprint for a set of ethics and principles to inform work at the boundaries of science, society and policy” (

A Military Motive for the Space Agency

By Guy Nolch

National security, not economic opportunity, may have motivated the government’s new interest in a sovereign space capability.

In November 1967 Australia became the third nation, behind the USA and Russia, to build and launch a satellite on its own soil. Fifty years after the launch of the Weapons Research Establishment Satellite (WRESAT), the Australian government announced that it would provide $41 million over 4 years to establish the Australian Space Agency. At the time, Australia and Iceland were the only two OECD nations without a space agency.

STEMM Faces Generational Gender Gap

By Guy Nolch

A meta-analysis of academic authorship has concluded that gender equity in science remains decades away.

For all the efforts being made to promote opportunities for women in science, parity between the genders remains decades away in some scientific disciplines, according to a meta-research article published in PLoS Biology ( “Although women are increasingly studying Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM) subjects at university, women comprise a minority of senior staff, are less often trained in elite research groups, are promoted more slowly, and are more likely to leave STEMM careers,” the paper ominously began.

AI Faces Its Manhattan Project Moment

By Guy Nolch

Researchers are boycotting a major university that is opening an autonomous weapons lab in collaboration with an arms company.

Most Australians have lived through an unprecedented era of prosperity and stability. It’s now more than 70 years since the end of the Second World War and almost 90 years since the start of the Great Depression. Since then medical advances have extended our life expectancy well into our eighties, and some futurists even proclaim that we are the last mortal generation before the “singularity” combines biological and artificial intelligence (AI).

Science Meets Parliament (But No Minister)

By Guy Nolch

It’s not enough to win the hearts of politicians when the government itself lacks a head for science.

Last month saw the 19th staging of Science Meets Parliament, with a reported 200 scientists converging on Canberra to rattle the political cage and network with both politicians and other advocates for science.

Born This Way

By Guy Nolch

A study reporting a weak association between two genes and homosexuality could have powerful consequences.

On 7 December 2017 the Australian Parliament passed a historic bill legalising gay marriage. The process followed a nationwide postal vote in which 61.6% of the 12.7 million Australians who voted were in favour of same-sex marriage.

The Yes campaign had argued that marriage was a basic civil right that should be open to all regardless of their sexuality. The No campaign had appealed to those who believed that homosexuality was “unnatural” and should not be sanctioned in legislation.

Lost in Space

By Guy Nolch

Australia’s space industry has been adrift in a vacuum of national neglect for more than 20 years, but that is about to change.

It’s an exciting time for anyone who dreams of worlds beyond our own. Since the last issue of Australasian Science we’ve seen Cassini’s heroic death plunge through Saturn’s rings and the detection of gravitational waves released from the collision of two neutron stars (see p.6). Australian astronomers have played their roles in these events by collaborating with international colleagues and hooking into the data generated by phenomenal new observing facilities abroad and in space.