Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Expert Opinion

Experts pick apart the veracity of claims made in research papers and the media.

Gene Editing for Conservation Needs In-Built Protection

By Australian Science Media Centre

Researchers have been considering using gene drives to rid New Zealand of invasive pests, but have they adequately estimated the issues and addressed indigenous rights?

Gene drive technology in any implementation is powerful and risky, and thus a precautionary approach to all stages of its development and release is critical. New Zealand already has the most advanced risk management systems in the world for bio­security and the release of new organisms, including genetically modified ones. Gene editing is only an extension of existing genetic modification which, once established in the wild, usually becomes irreversible.

First Australian Cancer Lawsuit Over Herbicide “Roundup”


A Melbourne gardener has launched legal action in the first Australian case to link cancer with glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup. While glyphosate is considered “probably carcinogenic”, some experts dispute this conclusion.

“Glyphosate is considered by the International Agency for Research on Cancer [IARC] to be probably carcinogenic to humans ( Here are the relevant conclusions:

6.1 Cancer in humans

There is limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of glyphosate. A positive association has been observed for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

6.2 Cancer in experimental animals

There is sufficient evidence in experimental animals for the carcinogenicity of glyphosate.

6.3 Overall evaluation

Glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A).

Call for a Moratorium on Human Genome Editing


Scientists and ethicists from seven countries have called for a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing. The suggested moratorium would not hamper research or editing of non-germline cells, but would set a period that no clinical use of editing sperm, eggs or embryos would be allowed.

Source document:

“In the light of the recent CRISPR baby scandal driven by the actions of the Chinese scientist Dr He, this is a wise move. Arguably, this should have been in place a few years ago when it became clear that editing viable embryos was possible. There is no law to prevent germline editing in China although guidelines prohibit it. Therefore, even though many prominent international scientists were aware of Dr He’s work, they were unclear if they should blow the whistle on the rogue scientist, and if so, to whom.

How Science Fared in the 2019 Federal Budget


Experts comment on how the 2019-20 Federal Budget will impact research, health and science.

"A failure to keep pace with inflation for most national research agencies is a stark concern for the science and technology sector.

This has been coupled with cuts to the Research Support Program, which compound the cuts this program suffered in December - severely limiting our universities’ ability to conduct world-leading research.

Labor's 2019 Climate Policy


Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has unveiled Labor's climate change policy — the plan it will use to reach its target of cutting emissions by 45% by 2030, and ensure half of Australia's energy comes from renewable sources by 2050.

"Labor’s push for electric cars is great so long as they’ll be run on renewable energy, not fossil fuels. Otherwise, what’s the point? Coal, in particular, is the dirtiest of all fuels in terms of carbon emissions -- and almost 60 percent of Australia’s electricity currently comes from burning coal. And to be clear, there’s no such thing as ‘clean coal’—it’s a total oxymoron. Every time an Australian politician advocates ‘clean coal’, a giant fist should come flying out of the blue and knock them straight off our TV screens."

Smoking Dope Just Once as a Teen Could Change Your Brain


Teenagers who say they have only smoked cannabis once or twice have both structural and cognitive changes to their brains.

“The results of this study (Journal of Neuroscience, suggest that even in small doses, cannabis use can result in structural brain changes, most notably increased grey matter volume.

Given that adolescence is a time of rapid brain maturation/reorganisation, any changes which are induced by external forces, such as cannabis or alcohol use, rather than normal developmental factors must be viewed with some concern.

Australia's Space Agency to Land in Adelaide


Australia’s Space Agency will touch down in Adelaide by mid-2019. It is hoped that it will help triple Australia’s space economy to $12 billion by 2030.

Mr Warwick Holmes is the Executive Director of Space Engineering at the University of Sydney
"I welcome the decision for the Australian Space Agency to be based in South Australia. The state has a long and successful history of previous space engineering endeavours, including the Europa 1 to 10 launches at Woomera by ELDO, the precursor to the European Space Agency.

Autism Link to Traffic Pollution Exposure During Pregnancy

By Australian Science Media Centre

Exposure to traffic pollution during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of autism.

Original study published in JAMA Pediatrics (

“Many countries, including Australia, have reported a dramatic increase in the number of diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) over the past three decades. Recent estimates suggest that the prevalence of ASD is one in every 110 individuals (~1%), although some figures suggest the prevalence is even higher.

NASA has Mars InSight


NASA's InSight lander has touched down on Mars after spending almost 7 months travelling through space. Its mission is to measure the temperature of the red planet and listen out for any earthquakes to help scientists understand more about the interior of the planet.

Ms Kim Ellis, Director International Earth & Space Technology Pty Ltd

"As our global civilisation moves closer to developing technology which can both transport and provide life support for humans across the vast distances required to get to Mars, missions such as Insight provide us with data and insights critical to understanding challenges.

The Persistent Killer of Killer Whales


Killer whales are at risk due to PCB contamination despite a near-global ban more than 30 years ago. The threat affects more than half of the world’s orcas, and whale populations near industrialised regions and at the top of the food-chain are at a high risk of population collapse over the next 100 years.

This valuable study in Science ( extends previous work within the author team, which found alarming levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in North Atlantic killer whales, and further, found these levels to have an immunotoxicological impact. The author team showed that PCB-mediated effects on reproduction and immune function threaten the long-term viability of more than 50% of the world’s killer whale populations. Indeed, in a number of populations today there is strong evidence of reduced fertility and even complete cessation of reproduction.