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By Stephen Luntz

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Thylacines Lacked Diversity
The Tasmanian tiger showed a similar lack of diversity to its devilish cousin, a study of museum samples reveals.

Dr Brandon Menzies of the University of Melbourne’s School of Biology collected DNA from a random sample of thylacine remains from different museums. He found genetic conformity at least as great as that endangering the survival of the Tasmanian devil.

Global Outlook for Nuclear Energy

By Michael Angwin

Despite the Fukushima disaster, Australian uranium miners are confident that the growing demand for electricity in a carbon-constrained world will drive an increase in nuclear power generation.

A small uranium development company, Toro Energy, believes it’s worth spending 6 years and countless millions in remote Western Australia preparing to mine and export the radio­active metal that the industry needs for fuel. This signals the confidence some people have in the future of the global nuclear energy business.

Michael Angwin is CEO of the Australian Uranium Association.

Our Last-Gasp Share of Giant Telescope

Artist's impression of SKA static, low frequency aperture arrays

Artist's impression of SKA static, low frequency aperture arrays to be built in Phase 1 at the Murchison site in WA. Credit: SKA Organisation/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions

By Peter Pockley

What was the back story behind the decision to split the Square Kilometre Array between southern Africa and Australia?

The scientific goals for the SKA are truly grand. “The SKA will transform our view of the universe,” according to the Interim Director General of the SKA Organisation, Dr Michiel van Haarlem, when announcing the decision on 25 May. “With it we shall see back to the moments after the Big Bang and discover previously unexplored parts of the cosmos. The SKA will enable astronomers to glimpse the formation and evolution of the very first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, investigate the nature of gravity, and possibly even discover life beyond Earth.”

Peter Pockley has been reporting the SKA saga for Australasian Science since the project was first conceived. © Peter Pockley (scicomm@bigpond.net.au)

Where to look for life on the red planet

Mars

The potential biosphere of Mars can extend from the surface in some locations to a typical depth of 37 km, with many subsurface environments potentially hospitable for life.

By Eriita Jones & Charles Lineweaver

By determining the minimum criteria for life, researchers have narrowed down the locations where life may lurk on Mars.

Is there life on Mars? It’s a difficult question to answer when we have only closely investigated the Martian surface in six locations where missions such as the Phoenix Lander and the Spirit and Opportunity rovers have sampled it directly.

Making the question even more challenging is that it is entirely plausible that the kinds of organisms that could have evolved to inhabit Mars’ unique environments have a different biochemistry to those on Earth, and would therefore be difficult to detect.

Eriita Jones is a PhD candidate with Charles Lineweaver at the Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics. They originally published the research descreibed here in the journal Astrobiology (10, 349–61; 11, 1017–33).

SCIENCE INKorporated

Fry's tattoos include CT scanned images of Komodo dragon skulls, a stylised snak

Fry's tattoos include CT scanned images of Komodo dragon skulls, a stylised snake and an adrenalin molecule.

By Matt Finch

His body may be adorned by tattoos of snakes, Komodo dragons and an adrenaline molecule, but Bryan Fry is only one of many scientists whose research interests are glorified in ink.

The phone rings for a long time before the call goes through.

“Who is this?”

I introduce myself.

The speaker repeats: “Who is this?” It sounds like he’s outdoors. A gust of wind blots out his voice and we lose the connection.

I wait and call again. “Dr Fry, I’m calling from Australasian Science.”

“I’m sorry, I was taking out the trash when I saw a venomous swamp snake. Of course I had to try and catch it.” The term “scientific pursuit” is a literal – and hazardous – one for Brian Grieg Fry of the University of Queensland.

Matt Finch is a freelance writer and education consultant.

The Evidence for Meditation

istockphoto

istockphoto

By Jonathan R. Krygier, Sara Shahrestani & Andrew H. Kemp

Meditation has traditionally been associated with Eastern mysticism, but science is beginning to show that cultivating a “heightened” state of consciousness can have a major impact on our brain, the way our bodies function and our levels of resilience.

Our minds and bodies are inextricably linked. For example, in 2006 Dr Michael Gonzales of Duke University reported that people with depression are at an increased risk of heart attack and up to 40% of patients with cardiovascular disease suffer from depression.

Jonathan Krygier is a PhD candidate, Sara Shahrestani is a third year psychology student, and Andrew Kemp is a NHMRC Career Development Award Fellow at the University of Sydney's School of Psychology.

A Burning Question

iStockphoto

iStockphoto

By Karl-Heinz Wyrwoll, Michael Notaro & Guangshan Chen

For thousands of years, indigenous Australians modified the landscape of the continent through regular and widespread burning of vegetation. Their use of fire was in part for hunting purposes and also for clearing pathways, for signalling other tribal groups and for promoting grass regrowth. Results from a recent climate modelling experiment suggest that these traditional burning practices may have been of sufficient magnitude to change the climate of northern Australia.

During the past few decades, human-induced climate change has been a persistent theme in the scientific literature. In more recent times it has been the subject of considerable argument in the public domain. Central to the discussion of human-induced climate change is the role of greenhouse gas emissions during the industrial era.

Karl-Heinz Wyrwoll is Associate Professor at The University of Western Australia’s School of Earth and Environment. Michael Notaro and Guangshan Chen are based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Climatic Research. The study was funded by Kimberley Foundation Australia and Climate Program Prediction for the Americas, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (USA).

Spoilt by Choice

iStockphoto

iStockphoto

By David Raubenheimer & Stephen J. Simpson

Our supermarkets provide a wide variety of foods, so why do more than a billion people worldwide eat more poorly than hunter-gatherers? A study conducted in a Swiss chalet was the starting point to test a theory.

The variety of foods now available is unprecedented in history, yet more than a billion people worldwide are overweight or obese. Considering the immense disease burden that this imposes on society, it seems that humans are not very good at making the most of the privileged times in which many of us live.

David Raubenheimer is Professor of Nutritional Ecology and Director of the Bachelor of Natural Sciences degree at Massey University. Professor Stephen Simpson is ARC Laureate Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences, and Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre, the University of Sydney.

The Earth’s First Super-Predators

Anomalocaris

Spanning 1 metre in length, the Cambrian super-predator Anomalocaris patrolled the world’s oceans more than half a billion years ago. Credit: Katrina Kenny

By Allison Daley & John Paterson

The discovery of the world’s oldest apex predators in the oceans more than half a billion years ago is a puzzling story that began well over a century ago. We now have a much clearer picture of these spectacular animals, but the debate about their feeding habits continues.

The classic Australian cliché to “throw another shrimp on the barbie” may well have an origin that dates back much further than expected – to the Cambrian Period over 500 million years ago.

Allison Daley is a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum in London. John Paterson is a Senior Lecturer at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW.

Cracks in the Edifice of Science

By Michael Cook

A tenfold increase in the number of retractions over the past 10 years raises questions about the infallibility of peer review of scientific research.

The novels of Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951), the first American Nobel laureate for literature, seem rather clunky nowadays but he had a knack for channelling the Zeitgeist. In Arrowsmith, published in 1925, an old German professor eulogises scientists:

Michael Cook is editor of the bioethics website BioEdge.