Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Online science news...

Stem Cell Therapies Look Promising For Heart Disease

Stem cell therapies work as a complement to standard treatments, potentially cutting the number of deaths after a year, suggests evidence from the latest Cochrane review: Stem cell therapy for chronic ischaemic heart disease and congestive heart failure. Taking stem cells from a patient’s bone marrow and injecting them into their damaged heart may be an effective way to treat heart disease.

The new review, published in The Cochrane Library, uses data involving 1,255 people from 23 randomised controlled trials, where all participants received standard treatments. Compared to standard treatment alone or with placebo, stem cell therapy using bone marrow cells resulted in fewer deaths due to heart disease and heart failure, reduced the likelihood of patients being readmitted to hospital, and improved heart function. However, researchers say that with much larger clinical trials underway, the findings are awaited to enable more certainty about the effects.

IPCC: Greenhouse gas emissions accelerate despite reduction efforts

Many pathways to substantial emissions reductions are available

A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels despite a growing number of policies to reduce climate change. Emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades.

Drink Milk? Women Who Do May Delay Knee Osteoarthritis

New research reports that women who frequently consume fat-free or low-fat milk may delay the progression of osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee.

Results published in Arthritis Care & Research shows that women who ate cheese saw an increase in knee OA progression. Yogurt did not impact OA progression in men or women.

Transplant Drugs May Help Wipe Out Persistent HIV Infections

New research suggests that drugs commonly used to prevent organ rejection after transplantation may also be helpful for combating HIV.

The findings, which are published in the American Journal of Transplantation, suggest a new strategy in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Coffee consumption reduces mortality risk from liver cirrhosis

Drinking tea, fruit juice or soft drinks don't affect cirrhosis mortality.

New research reveals that consuming two or more cups of coffee each day reduces the risk of death from liver cirrhosis by 66%, specifically cirrhosis caused by non-viral hepatitis. Findings in Hepatology show that tea, fruit juice, and soft drink consumption are not linked to cirrhosis mortality risk. As with previous studies heavy alcohol use was found to increase risk of death from cirrhosis.

Scientists determine how E. coli spread globally

Scientists have for the first time come closer to understanding how a clone of E coli, described as the most important of its kind to cause human infections, has spread across the world in a very short time.

E coli clone ST131 is one of the leading causes of urinary tract and blood stream infections and has crossed the globe at a rapid rate. Worryingly, members of this clone are becoming more resistant to antibiotics. As an indication of scale, more than half of all women will suffer a urinary tract infection at least once in their lives.

An international team of scientists, led by the University of Queensland in Australia and with the UK work led by Plymouth University and the Cardiff University, has studied ST131 and now has a better understanding of how it operates.

IPCC Report: Changing climate creates pervasive risks and opportunities for effective responses

Responses will face challenges with high warming of the climate

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a report that says the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate. The report also concludes that there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.

Unmanned drones could detect sharks

Unmanned drones could be used to protect Perth beaches from sharks, according to a WA biologist whose research has cast doubt over the effectiveness of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft patrols.

In a study published last month, co-author William Robbins deployed plywood “sharks” off the coast and recorded whether they were spotted by aerial patrols.

The research found human observers in helicopters spotted 17.1 per cent of the wooden sharks while people in fixed-wing aircraft spotted 12.5 per cent.

It concluded that aerial shark patrols offer limited benefits for bather safety while giving swimmers an “inflated sense of protection”.

Atkins-style diet may help stave off old age decline

Diets high in animal protein may help prevent functional decline in elderly individuals

A diet high in protein, particularly animal protein, may help elderly individuals function at higher levels physically, psychologically, and socially, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Due to increasing life expectancies in many countries, increasing numbers of elderly people are living with functional decline, such as declines in cognitive ability and activities of daily living. Functional decline can have profound effects on health and the economy.

Glucosamine Fails to Prevent Deterioration of Knee Cartilage, Decrease Pain

A short-term study found that oral glucosamine supplementation is not associated with a lessening of knee cartilage deterioration among individuals with chronic knee pain.

Findings published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology, indicate that glucosamine does not decrease pain or improve knee bone marrow lesions — more commonly known as bone bruises and thought to be a source of pain in those with osteoarthritis (OA).

Ecologists rebuke PM’s ‘no more parks’ vow

An international scientific group has decried Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent ‘no more parks’ pledge, saying it is badly out of step with environmental reality.

“Tony Abbott has blown it with that call,” said William Laurance, a professor at James Cook University and director of ALERT, the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers.

“Australia has some of the world’s most desperately endangered ecosystems and species, which direly need better protection,” said Laurance. “Just 7.7 percent of the continent is in national parks—that’s low by international standards.”

Herbal Cannabis Not Recommended for Arthritis

Patients with rheumatic conditions are in need of symptom relief and some are turning to herbal cannabis as a treatment option. However, the effectiveness and safety of medical marijuana to treat symptoms of rheumatic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or fibromyalgia is not supported by medical evidence.

A new article published in Arthritis Care & Research, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), explores the risks associated with using herbal cannabis for medicinal purposes and advises healthcare providers to discourage rheumatology patients from using this drug as therapy.

Fossils reveal Jurassic plant-insect relationships

An international team has analysed Jurassic arthropod-plant interactions from the Australian fossil record.

Fossilised plants were inspected for insect ‘bite marks’ to determine insect-plant relationships during the Jurassic era.

“We’ve given ourselves a really good insight,” says Sarah Martin, a senior geologist with the Geological Survey of Western Australia.

“It’s really a very important relationship between plants and arthropods at quite a key time in the evolution of both groups.

“Insects were becoming very modern in the Jurassic and into the Cretaceous.

Supplement boosts running performance

Supplementing runners with the naturally occurring amino acid beta-alanine considerably improved their performance over 800m according to a study aimed at field-testing laboratory research around the popular performance enhancing sport supplement.

The study results have been published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.

It used 18 male recreational club runners; some were given high quality beta-alanine supplements and others a placebo for 28 days.

Some of the runners using the supplement showed a 3.6 second improvement in their times (of around two minutes) over 800m—well beyond what researchers anticipated.

Curtin School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science lecturer Kagan Ducker undertook the study as part of his PhD research at UWA.

Nile blue improves crime scene fingerprinting

A new technique being developed by West Australian chemists could provide crime investigators with a safer, simpler and more versatile method for extracting good quality fingermarks, even from non-porous surfaces and in wet or humid conditions.

Curtin University’s Simon Lewis says fingermarks on porous surfaces like paper can be extracted using treatments that target compounds like amino acids or lipids derived from skin secretions.

But detecting fingermarks on non-porous material and in wet or humid conditions is more complex and poses a number of challenges, particularly on dark and patterned material where results often lack sufficient contrast.

Emu bush likely answer to livestock methane emissions

In vitro tests have revealed that emu bush, when mixed with oat chaff, can reduce methane emissions from ruminants.

Animal microbiologists have been trialling alternative fodder plants for ruminantsto reduce methane production and improve nutrition.

University of WA Assistant Professor Zoey Durmic says the story started some 10 years ago when they began assessing plants that could mitigate gas production, and that grew during dry summers.

“We are facing different problems such as drought and salinity,” she says.

“Methane is also a potent greenhouse gas and we all blame sheep and cattle for this.”

Sea snake at risk of being lost in hybrid swarm

The endangered dusky sea snake is even more at risk of extinction than thought because of surprising cross-species hybridisation.

This follows a pattern of unexplained drastically declining populations of sea snakes in the reefs of the Timor Sea in north-west Australia over the past 15 years.

Published in the journal Biological Conservation, the study found that at one of only two remaining coral reefs where they are still found, dusky sea snakes had hybridised almost completely with the closely related olive sea snake.

Co-creator of string field theory coming Down Under

The co-creator of string field theory, Dr Michio Kaku, will be appearing in Australia for a series of public lectures in June.

String theory combines the theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics by assuming a multiverse of universes. String field theory then uses the mathematics of fields to put it all into perspective.

Dr Kaku’s goal is to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one 'unified field theory' that summarises all fundamental laws of the universe in one simple equation.

Body Shape Index Better than BMI as Predictor of Mortality

In 2012, Dr. Nir Krakauer, an assistant professor of civil engineering in CCNY’s Grove School of Engineering, and his father, Dr. Jesse Krakauer, MD, developed a new method to quantify the risk specifically associated with abdominal obesity.

A follow-up study published in PLoS ONE supports their contention that the technique, known as A Body Shape Index (ABSI), is a more effective predictor of mortality than Body Mass Index (BMI), the most common measure used to define obesity.

Pinwheel 'living' crystals and the origin of life

Simply making nanoparticles spin coaxes them to arrange themselves into what University of Michigan researchers call 'living rotating crystals' that could serve as a nanopump. They may also, incidentally, shed light on the origin of life itself.

The researchers refer to the crystals as 'living' because they, in a sense, take on a life of their own from very simple rules.

Sharon Glotzer, the Stuart W. Churchill Collegiate Professor of Chemical Engineering, and her team found that when they spun individual nanoparticles in a simulation—some clockwise and some counterclockwise—the particles self-assembled into an intricate architecture.