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By Stephen Luntz

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Multiple Sex Selection Strategies in Skinks
A species of Tasmanian lizard has evolved two separate mechanisms for choosing the sex of its offspring: one for high altitudes and one for sea level.

Snow skinks live in both the alpine and coastal regions of Tasmania. Studies of the coastal population concluded that they used temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), a system common in reptiles. Females that basked in warm weather early in pregnancy produced mainly daughters, while those with fewer opportunities to sun themselves had sons.

Garbage Guts

Photo: Denice Askebrink

A healthy adult hawksbill turtle checking out divers in the Maldives. Photo: Denice Askebrink

By Blake Chapman

Why are turtles attempting to eat shopping bags, balloons and other forms of human rubbish in preference to natural food sources?

The marine environment is an amazing place, filled with an assortment of species more diverse and wondrous than the most imaginative of human brains could ever concoct. This environment continually sustains, influences and inspires us, and many of the ocean’s inhabitants have won the hearts of the masses.

Dr Blake Chapman completed her PhD in marine biology and neuroscience at The University of Queensland, and is a freelance science communicator.

Will Your Smart Meter Make You Less Smart?

By Peter Bowditch

The introduction of smart electricity meters has led to some silly public misconceptions.

The idea of smart meters seems like a good one, as monitoring energy use at frequent intervals can smooth consumption, thereby reducing the need for generating capacity and reducing consumer costs by educating them about patterns of use and misuse.

But nothing seems to happen in our society without objections, and these have been coming from several directions. I’ll apply a skeptical magnifying glass to a few of these.


Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (

Citizen Scientists Find Exoplanet

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

A joint effort of citizen scientists and professional astronomers has led to the first reported case of a planet orbiting twin suns that in turn is orbited by a second distant pair of stars.

Aided by volunteers using the website, a Yale-led international team of astronomers identified and confirmed the discovery of the phenomenon, which is called a “circumbinary planet” in a four-star system.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at

Four Academies Are Working Together

By Robin Batterham

Australia’s four learned academies are integrating their expertise in science, technology, social science and humanities to form a better evidence base for advice to government.

The appointment of Professor Ian Chubb as the government’s Chief Scientist and the associated overhaul of the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC) have resulted in one of the most interesting – and potentially productive – intersections between science and policy in recent times.

Professor Robin Batterham AO FREng FAA FTSE finishes his term as President of ATSE in December. He is a former Chief Scientist for Australia and was Rio Tinto’s most senior scientist before taking his current appointment as the Kernot Professor of Engineering at the University of Melbourne.

How Hepatitis Escapes the Immune System

Credit: Frederic Sierro

The liver’s unusual cellular architecture makes blood flow slower than in other organs. Perforations of the lining of the blood vessels within the liver allow a unique contact between the circulating blood cells (red) and the liver cells (green), and explains why activated T cells (blue) are efficiently retained in the liver. Credit: Frederic Sierro

By Patrick Bertolino and David Bowen

Recent discoveries about the unusual behaviour of immune cells in the liver could open the way to new strategies for transplantation and the treatment of viral hepatitis.

The relationship between the liver and the immune system is unique. During pregnancy, the foetal liver produces the baby’s first blood cells. After birth, the liver hands over this role to the bone marrow but continues to maintain an unusual relationship with the immune system.

Patrick Bertolino and David Bowen are co-heads of the Liver Immunology group at the Centenary Institute in Sydney.

Know Your Enemy


Credit: iStockphoto

By Hsei Di Law

New research has revealed a key mechanism by which our immune system turns against us.

Letter for letter, every single 75 trillion of your cells has identical DNA. However, one group of cells not only has DNA that reads differently to every other cell of the body, but also differently from one another. These are a type of white blood cell known as B cells.

B cells have a central role within the immune system. They are the ones responsible for producing antibodies – the molecules that fight off infections. One estimate says that a single B cell can secrete more than 2000 molecules of antibody per second.

Hsei Di Law is a research technician at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, The Australian National University.

Take a Closer Look at that Christmas Card

By Magdeline Lum

Many Christmas cards and decorations have incorrect depictions of the Moon and snowflakes.

It’s that time of year when houses are adorned with twinkling lights and decorations with presents under a tree are waiting to be opened. Christmas is approaching. How much attention do you pay to pictures on the Christmas cards you receive or to the paper wrapped around the presents?

I Can Feel Your Pain


Empathy for pain has conceptual commonalities with synaesthesia. Credit: iStockphoto

By John Bradshaw

Empathy for someone else’s pain shares common characteristics with synaesthesia, a sensory condition where individuals can smell music or taste colours.

In the late 1990s I was contacted by a widow who wanted to know whether there was a scientific explanation for some unusual experiences of her late husband. It seemed that whenever he witnessed someone injure themselves, or show sudden pain, he would involuntarily experience immediate and often excruciating pain in the same body part. Thus if his wife accidentally hit her thumb while hammering, he would call out: “Don’t do that, it really hurts”. He really felt it, she said.

John Bradshaw is Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at Monash University. This article is adapted from a script broadcast on Ockham’s Razor, and has been updated with additional information from Bernadette Fitzgibbon.

Green Is Mean and White Is Nice

By Stephen Luntz

Public understanding of rip research is saving Australian lives each summer.

The man who has done the most to educate Australians about dangers lurking off our coasts grew up in icy Canada, completing his undergraduate and Masters degrees at the University of Toronto.

Dr Rob Brander has made great strides in unlocking the behaviour of rip currents on Australian beaches, but has made an even greater contribution to safety through his efforts to teach beach-goers safe swimming.