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Online Feature

Genome–Disease Association Studies Defended

By Stephen Luntz

"Failure of candidate gene studies showed how little we knew about the basic causes of most common diseases."

Australian scientists are part of an international defence of genome-wide association studies (GWAS), a technique for determining the causes of disease that they argue has been wrongfully maligned.

GWAS compare the genomes of thousands of people with and without particular diseases. Using single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) chips, variations in the genome are matched with the presence or absence of a disease trait.

Bill to stop misuse of dangerous technology could hit uni research

By Justin Norrie

The Defence Trade Controls Bill 2011, which restricts the use of materials that could be used in weapons, will inhibit a wide range of scientific research.

A bill designed to stop the transfer of sensitive materials and information would also impede crucial academic research, staff from the University of Sydney have told a senate hearing.

Defining ‘human’ – new fossils provide more questions than answers

By Darren Curnoe

Study finds evidence for new evolutionary line of prehistoric humans in East Asia.

The origin of the human species remains one of the most fascinating and difficult topics of modern science.

One of the main reasons for this is a continuing lack of agreement about how we should define ourselves. In other words, what is it that makes us human (or, scientifically, Homo sapiens)?

State of the Climate 2012

By Rob Vertessy and Megan Clark

The Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO have released an updated summary of Australia’s long term climate trends.

Australia’s land and oceans have continued to warm in response to rising CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

This is the headline finding in the State of the Climate 2012, an updated summary of Australia’s long term climate trends released by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology today (14 March 2012).

The long-term warming trend has not changed.

Next generation of pharmaceuticals might make good use of shark antibody proteins

By La Trobe University

International collaboration evaluates new antibody technology

Australian research into shark antibodies that holds out the potential for new drugs and diagnostic agents is a step closer to realising its goal following an agreement with international diagnostic and pharmaceutical giant, Roche.

The pioneering work, which has attracted world-wide interest, is based on research led by Associate Professor Michael Foley at the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Science (LIMS).

It builds on discoveries over the last decade that shark antibodies could offer a lot of advantages over existing therapies in the fight against cancers and autoimmune diseases.

Desalination: Priorities for research in the Pacific

By Colin A. Scholes

‘Desal’ technology has been in place on Pacific atoll nations since as early as the 1980s, so why did recent droughts invoke a state of emergency? Current reverse osmosis desalination research focuses on the needs of the industrial world, which are far removed from the challenges faced in developing tropical nations.

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.