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.

Mozzies Knocked out with Gene Drive


Researchers say they've successfully used a CRISPR-based gene drive to cause the collapse of a population of caged malaria-carrying mosquitoes by targeting a gene that determines whether an individual mosquito develops as a male or a female.

Research article: A CRISPR–Cas9 gene drive targeting doublesex causes complete population suppression in caged Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes. Nature Biotechnology

Dr Gordana Rasic is a senior research officer in the Mosquito Control Group, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

"In this study, scientists created a new gene drive that disrupts development of female malarial mosquitoes (Anopheles gambiae) and causes their caged populations to crash.

The Biodiversity Benefits of Limiting Warming to 1.5°C

By Australian Science Media Centre

Global temperatures are on track to rise by 3.2°C by 2100. A new study estimates that if this occurs, 26% of vertebrates, 49% of insects and 44% of plants would be unable to survive in about half of the areas they currently inhabit, compared with just 4% of vertebrates, 6% of insects and 8% of plants if warming is limited to 1.5°C.

A paper just published in Science by a UK and Australian collaboration … is a mighty effort as a piece of research, but it’s also a mighty effort in trying to paint a silver lining on a thundercloud. Habitat loss of species is a good proxy for pressures towards extinction, and this paper simultaneously tells us how many species we could “save”’ by delivering on the Paris agreement. The problem is that the subtext outlines our actual effects on the demise of the world’s species and adds another 150,000 species or so on top of past and vast efforts to measure it.

What the Federal Budget Means for Science

Experts comment on how the 2018-19 Federal Budget will impact research, health and science.

Andrew Holmes is President of the Australian Academy of Science

"This is a good budget for science. It reflects the long-term and strategic approach that is needed for Australia to benefit from science and innovation at a global scale."

Australia’s national supercomputers give scientists across government, industry and universities the processing power for the complex scientific computations needed in an advance society including accurate weather forecasts, drug development, and large-scale astronomy.

First Stars May Have Revealed the Dark Matter Particle

By Alan Duffy

CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory has detected a faint silhouette of the first stars after the Big Bang. Its extreme coldness indicates the existence of the dark matter particle.

Radiation from the intense light of the first stars, in particular Lyman alpha, altered giant clouds of gas 180 million years after the Big Bang. These clouds then blocked the light of the afterglow of that Big Bang, the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). We see these clouds silhouetted against the fireball all around us. The continuing growth of stars, and the first galaxies, eventually heated that gas until it itself began to glow within just 100 million years.

Ozone Levels Still Decreasing Away from Poles


While ozone levels in the upper atmosphere near the poles have been recovering, new research has found that the bottom part of the ozone layer at more populated latitudes is not recovering.

The worst ozone-depleting substances are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other volatile chemicals containing chlorine or bromine. Emissions of these substances have been drastically reduced by international agreement, under the Montreal Protocol, to ban or restrict their production and consumption. As a result (we’d like to believe), the decline in the stratospheric ozone concentration has been arrested and there are some signs of recovery.

Musk’s Mission to Mars


Elon Musk provided an update on his quest to colonise Mars at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, where he described a reusable rocket to overcome cost barriers and an ambitious schedule to land cargo missions on Mars by 2022.

“Elon Musk’s vision for human space flight is exciting, timely, and truly fascinating. One hundred per cent reusability of rocket components, refuelling in orbit rather than on a planet or moon’s surface, and using widely accessible and inexpensive fuels like methane and oxygen are major parts of this vision. Space-X has made huge strides towards this reusability this year.

The time lines are very ambitious, including setting the year 2022 for two cargo ships to go to Mars, but 5 years is also a significant amount of time. The Apollo program’s time line was not very different.

Human Embryos Edited


Scientists have used CRISPR to edit human embryos, removing a mutation linked to a heritable heart condition.

CRISPR is surprisingly easy to use, and what was stopping us from editing human embryos wasn’t really any technical limitation; it was more ethical barriers, concerns for safety, and lack of pressing medical need.

Finkel Review Hedges Its Bets


Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, has unveiled a blueprint for the national electricity market that “risks falling short of Australia’s task and opportunities in reducing carbon emissions”.

After 'WannaCrypt', should governments stockpile software vulnerabilities?

Should governments adhere in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world?

The “WannaCrypt” malware has disrupted vital infrastructure in almost 100 countries so far.

Federal Budget 2017-18

Experts comment on how the 2017-18 Federal Budget will impact research, health and science.

Professor Les Field is Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science
"Science has largely flown under the radar in a restrained Budget, with no big spending measures and no major cuts apart from the university funding changes announced last week.