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.

Genetic Sprays Use RNA Interference to Combat Pests

Monsanto is developing sprays to control weeds and insect pests by temporarily altering their genetics through RNA interference as an alternative to developing new GM crops, and could also be used to introduce traits like drought resistance.

“The single biggest problem with conventional insecticides is their effects on non-target organisms. Using RNA interference (RNAi) to kill pests through sprays of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) has the potential to be species-specific. This individual targeting can be achieved because genes vary enough between different species that specific dsRNA could only affect the desired pest.

“However, targeting single species is not guaranteed. For example, in a recent paper we showed that a spray of dsRNA from a house fly could kill Colorado potato beetles.

Should Doctors Recommend Homeopathy?


A debate in the British Medical Journal has argued about whether the report into the evidence for homeopathy by Australia’s NHMRC omitted key pieces of evidence.

“Peter Fisher [Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine] makes several incorrect assertions about the methodology used in the NHMRC report which undermine his conclusions. The report was based upon a review of systematic reviews of clinical trials involving the use of homeopathy. As such it was the least biased evaluation of the current evidence that is possible, and no important reviews were omitted to our knowledge. The quality of the reviews and the trials they were based upon found that most studies were unreliable due to the possibility of bias or poor design.

2015 Federal Budget: Announcements and Expert Responses

By Australian Science Media Centre

Experts comment on how the 2015 federal Budget will impact research, health and science.

Federal budget: summary of major announcements

Australian Consensus Centre
$4.0 million over four years from 2014-15 to help establish the Australian Consensus

The Government will provide $150.0 million in 2016-17. $150 million had already been allocated for 2015-16

University research block grants
The Sustainable Research Excellence component of the university block grant will be cut by $260 million over the forward estimates, and by $150.0 million in 2016-17 alone

Antarctic science

Can You Outrun an Unhealthy Diet?

By Australian Science Media Centre

An editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has blamed excess sugar and carbohydrates, and not a lack of exercise, behind the surge in obesity.

“It is a complete myth that sugar and carbohydrate alone are solely responsible for obesity. Australians eat over 30% of excess kilojoules from indulgence foods. Some may be high in sugar and carbohydrate, but many may also be high in fat and salt.

“Eating for good health and well-being will not be achieved by focussing on avoidance of one nutrient. The failure of low-fat foods will be repeated with low sugar and carbohydrate foods unless we focus on balanced nutrition. Exercise has many benefits, but particularly for weight loss maintenance rather than weight loss.”


WHO Releases Sugar Guidelines

The World Health Organization has recommended that adults and children reduce their daily intake of sugars, excluding sugar in fruits, vegetables and milk, to less than 10% of their total energy intake. Halving this to six teaspoons per day would provide additional health benefits.

“The recommendations in the final report are consistent with those in the draft report released in 2014 for public comment. There is strong evidence that children and adults should consume less than 10% of kilojoules from free sugars to reduce the risk of dental caries and decrease their contribution of empty kilojoules and refined carbohydrate to the diet. For adult Australians consuming 8700 kJ per day, this translates into consuming no more than 55 grams of free sugars per day, or less than 13 teaspoons.

Organic Pollutants Linked to Early Menopause

By Australian Science Media Centre

A new study has found that women who are exposed to high levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals begin menopause 2–4 years earlier.

“A number of chemicals that are persistent pollutants in the environment, such as polychlorinated biphenyl’s (PCB’s) and phthalates, can weakly mimic oestrogen or testosterone. As they are easily absorbed and can accumulate in the body, these chemicals may accumulate to levels that have adverse effects on human health.

The Call for Nuclear Energy to Stop Biodiversity Loss

By Australian Science Media Centre

Adelaide ecologists Prof Barry Brook and Prof Corey Bradshaw have called for the promotion of nuclear power to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity in an open letter published in Conservation Biology.

“It is obviously correct to say that we need to move rapidly away from our present heavy dependence on fossil fuels. By far the most cost-effective change is to improve the efficiency of turning energy into the services it provides: lighting, heating, cooling, motive power and electronic devices. Wind and solar are the best alternatives for supplying the energy we need.

Antidepressants during Pregnancy Linked to ADHD in Kids


Exposure to antidepressants in the womb may be linked to attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder in the child, but the risks of depressed mothers stopping their medication may be greater.

“Current psychiatric advice is generally that the risk of ‘depression’ during pregnancy outweighs the risk of foetal exposure to antidepressant medication. These data challenge this assertion and suggest that great caution needs to be exercised in prescribing antidepressants to women who are pregnant or planning to be pregnant because of risks to foetal neurodevelopment.

Prostate Cancer Screening: Do Benefits Outweight Risks?


Screening for prostate cancer could reduce deaths from the disease by about one-fifth, according to long-term results of a European study involving over 162,000 men. Despite this new evidence for the efficacy of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing, the authors question whether the benefits of screening outweigh the harms, and recommend against routine PSA screening programs.

Source: Schröder et al., The Lancet, published online at

“The results are not surprising given previous reports and updates from the individual participating centres that the study data was collected from over the past 13 years. The key findings indicate that screening can reduce death from prostate cancer, but the risk of over-detection and over-treatment is considered too high to roll out a national screening program.

Organic Food High in Antioxidants and Low in Toxic Metals

A meta-analysis of 343 studies has found that organic crops and crop-based foods are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants and 50% lower in toxic heavy metals than conventional crops. But are these results biologically meaningful?