Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Online Feature

Inventing life: patent law and synthetic biology

By Alison McLennan & Matthew Rimmer

The field of synthetic biology poses a number of challenges for patent law.

With promises of improved medical treatments, greener energy and even artificial life, the field of synthetic biology has captured the public imagination and attracted significant government and commercial investment.

This excitement reached a crescendo on 21 May 2010, when scientists at the J Craig Venter Institute in the United States announced that they had made a “self-replicating synthetic bacterial cell”. This was the first living cell to have an entirely human-made genome, which means that all of the cell’s characteristics were controlled by a DNA sequence designed by scientists.

Innovation in China: The best and worst of times

By Cong Cao

Research misconduct is "serious and widespread" among Chinese scientists.

'It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." The opening line of English novelist Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities is perhaps an apt description of the status of innovation in China today. In terms of political stability and volume of research funding, few would argue that China is currently in the throes of "the best of times", free from the upheavals and setbacks that checkered the first 30 years of the modern People's Republic of China.

Research in Practice

By Barry Leviny

What does a scientist do day-to-day? Barry Leviny talks to a biomedical researcher to find out.

I grew up reading about scientists. I know the story of Archimedes finding what the King’s crown was made of after an idea he had in his bath. I know the story of Newton’s inspiration about gravity after the apple fell and I know Gallileo saw ‘ears’ on Saturn when he looked through his telescope. I know all these things, and yet I didn’t know what a modern scientist actually does each day. I remember science at school, but I can’t imagine most scientists today getting to work, turning on their Bunsen burner and waiting for their first beaker of reagent to turn pink.

Censoring influenza research: gagging scientists could put lives at risk

By Ross Barnard

Tying the arms of our scientists behind their backs will put lives at stake and set a dangerous precedent.

Researchers working on a pathogenic strain of avian flu (H5N1) have agreed to pause their work for 60 days so international experts can discuss the safest ways to proceed. But it’s important to ensure that this voluntary moratorium doesn’t provide a platform for censorship of the research which has already faced calls for suppression of data from a US government agency.

Protecting Top-Priority Habitats Can Also Ease Poverty

By Conservation International

First global estimation of biodiversity benefits from habitats to humans
finds flows valued at $1 trillion per year to poor communities.

Protecting the land of highest priority for biodiversity conservation also delivers significant, life-sustaining services and income to the world’s most impoverished people, according to a new study published this month in the journal, BioScience. Yet conservation efforts and poverty alleviation efforts are both at risk of failing, since this ‘natural capital’ is grossly undervalued in the global marketplace.

Social Media Tracks Disease Epidemic More Effectively

By American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

New Study on Cholera in Haiti Demonstrates for First Time Tweets, Blogs and News Feeds Can Track a Disease Epidemic in Disaster Setting More Rapidly than Traditional Methods

Internet-based news and Twitter feeds were faster than traditional sources at detecting the onset and progression of the cholera epidemic in post-earthquake Haiti that has already killed more than 6500 people and sickened almost half a million, according to a new study published in the January issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Science advice and policy making

By Robert M. May

Lord May examines the challenges facing tomorrow’s world: anthropogenic climate change; feeding more people; and designing a financial system that allocates capital in a responsible and effective way.

To borrow a phrase, we live in the Best of Times and the Worst of Times. This makes it particularly pleasing to see a resurgent Royal Society of New South Wales (RSN) playing a larger part in the communal life of the state.

Logging does not cause ‘tipping points’ for Mega Fires

Mountain ash regeneration

Foreground and mid-ground: young mountain ash regeneration unburnt after 7 February wildfire. Background: burnt 1939 ash regrowth, same wildfire. (Photo: A. Leong, courtesy Victorian Association of Forest Industries)

By Ian Ferguson and Phil Cheney

An alternative view to a report published in Australasian Science last month.

Ian Ferguson is Professor Emeritus of Forest Science at the Dept of Forest and Ecosystem Science, University of Melbourne. Phil Cheney is former Head of the Bushfire Research Unit, CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products.

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First glimpse of the Higgs boson

By Jonathan Carroll

How to interpret CERN’s announcement.

I can guarantee you that some time in the next two weeks, someone at a barbeque I’m attending will ask me about the Higgs boson. I don’t blame them – it’s interesting stuff – but it’s not “answer-in-30-words-or-less” stuff. If you’re that go-to person in your family or circle of friends, but you don’t necessarily have the gory details to respond with, hopefully I can give you the ammunition to fire back with: “Oh, the Higgs, yeah, I know about that.”

University challenged for giving undeserved credibility to alternative therapies

By Various signatories

Some of Australia's most prominent doctors, medical researchers and scientists have put their names to a letter criticising a university's decision to teach an alternative medicine course as if it were science.

Thirty four of Australia’s most prominent doctors, medical researchers and scientists have voiced their concern that the public are at risk of being misled about health treatments after another Australian university announced plans to teach an “alternative” medicine course as if it were science.

Doctors and scientists have written to Central Queensland University (CQU) criticising the university’s decision to train chiropractors, deploring what they see as a trend to offer courses in the sciences and health that are not supported by valid scientific evidence.