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Saving young lives by the million

Professor Ruth Bishop has been named the 2013 CSL Florey Medallist for her discovery of the rotavirus responsible for the deaths of half a million children each year.

By their third birthday, just about every child in the world has had a rotavirus infection. Every day about 1200 children die from it; half a million children every year. That’s changing. We’re fighting back thanks to a discovery made in 1973 by a quiet Melbourne researcher—this year’s winner of the 2013 CSL Florey Medal.

It’s not a jungle out there: rocking the ecological boat

If you were a pharmaceutical company searching for a natural plant compound to use as the basis for a new line of drugs, where would you begin?

Until recently, this question was a no-brainer. Everyone knows that tropical forests contain the widest diversity of species, all fighting for survival and defending themselves physically and chemically against being invaded or eaten. So the tropics should naturally provide the greatest selection of biologically active compounds.

“No,” says Angela Moles, a pioneering young ecologist from the University of New South Wales, who is transforming our understanding of the plant world and overturning some of the dogmas of ecology.

Fighting cancer by the numbers

Terry Speed doesn’t expect to see headlines reading “Statistician cures cancer” any time soon. But he knows that the right mathematics and statistics can help researchers understand the underlying causes of cancer and reduce the need for surgery.

A mathematician and statistician, he has written elegant theoretical papers that almost no-one reads. But he has also testified in court, helped farmers and diamond miners, and given biologists statistical tools to help them cope with the genetic revolution.

Twenty years ago biologists looked at one or two genes in isolation. Today they can track thousands of genes in a single cell, but to understand the results they need tools of the kind that Terry develops.

Of heads and headlines: can a skull doom 14 human species?

By Darren Curnoe

A newly discovered 1.8 million-year-old skull from Eastern Europe has been pitched as disproving a decades-old paradigm in human evolution.

Its discoverers claim the find sinks more than a dozen species into a single evolutionary line leading to living people. But the new study highlights the propensity of some anthropologists to overstep the mark, interpreting the importance of their finds in a way that grabs the headlines.

More big claims

The more-than-150-year history of human evolutionary science is filled with many remarkable and headline-grabbing episodes.

Sticks and stones: Brain releases natural painkillers during social rejection

Finding that the opioid system can act to ease social pain, not just physical pain, may aid understanding of depression and social anxiety

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," goes the playground rhyme that's supposed to help children endure taunts from classmates. But a new study suggests that there's more going on inside our brains when someone snubs us – and that the brain may have its own way of easing social pain.

The findings, recently published in Molecular Psychiatry by a University of Michigan Medical School team, show that the brain's natural painkiller system responds to social rejection – not just physical injury.

Nobel prizewinners took chemistry from pipettes to programming

By Catherine Whitby, University of South Australia

The 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded for research that has revolutionised our understanding of how enzymes control the chemistry in our bodies.

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been jointly awarded to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel for developing foundation computer software that chemists today use to investigate how biological molecules work.

Could the Higgs Nobel be the end of particle physics?

By Harry Cliff

While the discovery of the Higgs boson has been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics, it hasn’t brought us any closer to answering some of the most troubling problems in fundamental science.

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to François Englert and Peter Higgs for their work that explains why subatomic particles have mass. They predicted the existence of the Higgs boson, a fundamental particle, which was confirmed last year by experiments conducted at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

Bread, beer and botox: the science behind the 2013 Nobel Prize for medicine

By Jenny Martin

The 2013 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded "discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic". What does this mean and why is it important?

What do bread, beer and botox have in common with this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine? More than you might think. But more on that in a minute.

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to James Rothman, Randy Schekman, and Thomas Südhof “for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells.”

Diamond 'super-Earth' may not be quite as precious

An alien world thought to be the first known planet to consist largely of diamond appears less likely to be of such precious nature.

A planet 40 light years from our solar system, believed to be the first-ever discovered planet to consist largely of diamond, may in fact be of less exquisite nature, according to new research led by University of Arizona astronomy graduate student Johanna Teske.

Scientists link DNA to marital satisfaction

Study links genetics, emotions and marital satisfaction.

What makes some people more prone to wedded bliss or sorrow than others? Researchers at UC Berkeley and Northwestern University have found a major clue in our DNA. A gene involved in the regulation of serotonin can predict how much our emotions affect our relationships, according to a new study that may be the first to link genetics, emotions, and marital satisfaction. The study was conducted at UC Berkeley.