Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


A round-up of the latest science and news from Australasia.

Komodo Dragon Myth Slain

By Stephen Luntz

One of the best-known stories about Komodo dragons has been proven false, yet it has been surprisingly hard to gain acceptance for the new evidence.

For many years it has been believed that Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizard, kill their larger prey through a unique mechanism. The story goes that the dragons have mouths full of bacteria, and that when they bite an animal too large to bring down, such as a water buffalo, the bacteria turn the wound septic, allowing the dragon its feed.

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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.

Science in the 2019 Federal Budget

The Australian Academy of Science has broken down initiatives in the 2019 Federal Budget. Major science initiatives announced or elaborated in the Budget include:

  • $56.4 million over three years to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation to support nuclear medicine production, critical radioactive waste management and nuclear decommissioning activities, and asset management. The Government will also provide an equity injection of $56 million to ensure the continued protection of both the community and the environment.

Lead Contamination Found in Bees and Their Honey

A new study published in Environmental Science & Technology is the first Australian research of its kind to trace the source of contaminating metals, including lead, in honey bees and their products.

Researchers from Macquarie University used an isotopic source-tracing method to analyse metal contaminants in soil and dust from Sydney and Broken Hill, and compared the results in bees as well as their honey and wax.

Antarctic Ice Reveals Neutrino Absorption

An international team of scientists has measured how Earth absorbs the very highest energy neutrinos.

Neutrinos are subatomic particles that normally pass by the trillion through our bodies and every part of the Earth every second, but they rarely interact with matter. This makes them difficult to detect.

Gene Drives: Just 100 Infertile Mice Can Eradicate an Island Population

University of Adelaide researchers have shown that it may be possible to eradicate populations of invasive pest animals through the inheritance of a negative gene – a technique known as a “gene drive”.

The deliberate spreading of deleterious genes, such as genes causing sterility, through pest populations using gene drives is viewed as a potential “silver bullet” for conservation science and agriculture (AS, July/August 2017 issue). The technology could also be applied to public health efforts to control the spread of diseases by animals such as mosquitoes.

The fine line between playing God and saving species

New Zealand conservation workers are keen on gene-editing to eradicate pests but would rather avoid “playing God” with native species, a University of Otago study suggests.

In an article published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution, researchers from the Departments of Anatomy and Zoology outline the views of 148 Department of Conservation (DOC) staff over the use of both gene-editing to save endangered animal species and “de-extinction” to resurrect those already lost.

Stress Hormones Underlie Indigenous Health Gap

James Cook University scientists have found that secretion of the stress hormone cortisol is impaired in young Indigenous adults, and that their biological stress response is linked to the racial discrimination they experience.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, showed for the first time that the morning increase of cortisol that prepares us to effectively deal with the stresses of the upcoming day is missing in otherwise healthy young Indigenous adults.

The Origins of Vanuatu and Tonga’s First People

The origins of Vanuatu and Tonga’s first inhabitants has been revealed by the first major study of ancient DNA from the Pacific Islands.

The study, published in Nature (, found that Vanuatu’s first people arrived 3000 years ago from Taiwan and the northern Philippines, and not from the neighbouring Australo-Papuan populations of Australia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands that had been in the region for between 40,000 and 50,000 years.

Oldest Fossils Prove that Life Thrived on Young Earth

Australian researchers have uncovered the world’s oldest fossils in a remote area of Greenland, capturing the earliest history of the planet and demonstrating that life on Earth emerged rapidly in the planet’s early years.

Led by Prof Allen Nutman of The University of Wollongong, the team discovered 3.7-billion-year-old stromatolite fossils in the world’s oldest sedimentary rocks in the Isua Greenstone Belt along the edge of Greenland’s icecap.