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.

Back Pain Can Be Treated with Antibiotics

New research finds that bacterial infection is the cause of 40% of chronic lower back pain.

Three papers published in the European Spine Journal have reported that bacterial infection is the cause of 40% of chronic lower back pain, meaning that patients can now be treated with courses of antibiotics rather than major surgery.

Red Herring for Red Meat Consumption

A nutrient used as a dietary supplement, not fat and cholesterol, is the link between red meat consumption and cardiovascular disease.

“The article in Nature Medicine by Robert Koeth and co-authors presents a fascinating series of studies, in mice and human subjects, pointing to a causative role for L-carnitine in atherosclerosis. The effect is not of L-carnitine itself, but of a product of its metabolism by resident bacteria in the gut called Trimethylamine-N-oxide, or TMAO for short.


Aspirin May Lower Melanoma Risk

New research has found that women who take aspirin have a reduced risk of developing melanoma, and that the longer they take it, the lower the risk.

Overall, women who used aspirin had a 21% lower risk of melanoma relative to non-users, with each incremental increase in duration of aspirin use associated with an 11% lower risk of melanoma. The findings suggest that aspirin’s anti-inflammatory effects may help protect against this type of skin cancer.

Court Upholds Patent for Breast Cancer Gene

A landmark decision by the Federal Court has upheld the validity of patents on the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, with Cancer Voices Australia and cancer survivor Yvonne D’arcy losing their case against US-based Myriad Genetics Inc and Melbourne-based Genetic Technologies.

“My initial reaction is that the judge has given a broad reading of the ‘invention’ requirement in Australian law (referred to as manner of manufacture). Using the language from a 1959 case, he says that what is required is an ‘artificially created state of affairs’ and that without human intervention an isolated DNA sequence does not exist outside the cell.

Getting Stoned May Not Be Making Teens Stupid

A previously reported causal link between teenage marijuana use and a reduction in IQ may be erroneous. A Norwegian researcher re-examined data from the Dunedin longitudinal study of cannabis users in New Zealand and found that the decrease in IQ observed may instead be linked to lower socioeconomic status.

“The approaches differ between these two papers, reflecting the authors’ backgrounds.

“The original paper is led by authors specialising in psychology and psychiatry. They do not consider variables such as socio-economic status (SES), and their statistical analyses rely heavily on strong and untested assumptions. For example, they assume a simple linear relationship between the duration of marijuana smoking and the change in IQ, and their results do not show clearly how confident we can be in the magnitude of the results.

High Levels of Methane Around Coal Seam Gas Fields

Southern Cross University academics have reported unusually high levels of methane around coal seam gas fields in northern NSW and the Tara gas fields in southern Queensland.

“A team from Southern Cross University recently reported high concentrations of methane in the Tara basin CSG field. I have seen these data and the methods that underlie them. The data themselves are very solid; this is state-of-the-art equipment and contamination is very unlikely, especially given the large spikes they observed.

Concentrations, however, are not what we're really interested in. One can get high concentrations near even small leaks, especially in an enclosed space. We are really interested in emissions.

Source: AusSMC

Too Much Added Sugar for Young Australians

By various experts

Preliminary research presented at the annual congress of the Australia and New Zealand Obesity Society suggests that intake of “added” sugars is above recommended levels for more than half of young Australians.

“There is a renewed interest in the role of foods high in added sugar on human health, especially in relation to weight gain and obesity. Research in this area is hindered in Australia because our food composition datasets currently do not distinguish between total (both naturally occurring and added during processing) and added sugars.

Gillard announces 3,200 gigalitres back to the Murray

By Various experts

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced a plan to return 3,200 gigalitres of water to the Murray-Darling Basin (an extra 450 billion litres) from 2019. The Gillard Government has pledged $1.7 billion over a decade from 2014.

Long-Term Toxicity of GM Maize

By Compiled by AusSMC

French research published in Food and Chemical Toxicology suggests that rats fed a diet containing a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize died more frequently and earlier than control groups. The study also suggests that females developed mammary tumours more often than and before controls.

“The current paper is far from convincing from a toxicological perspective. The study was based on 10 rats of each sex per treated group, and there was no consistency to any dose–response relationship, and much variability between the outcomes in the various groups. It was difficult to determine whether any effects on health or survival (if really present) were attributable to the GM maize, to the Roundup herbicide (glyphosate) or to neither. While the results were analysed using an unusual statistical technique, I felt that the authors substantially over-interpreted the findings.”

Dark Chocolate and Cocoa May Reduce Blood Pressure

By Various experts

Australian researchers have found that dark chocolate and cocoa powder have a small but statistically significant effect in lowering blood pressure in the short term. The authors say there is a need for long-term trials to determine whether or not blood pressure is reduced on a chronic basis by eating cocoa every day.

High blood pressure is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, contributing to about half the cardiovascular events, such as strokes and heart attacks, worldwide and around a third of cardiovascular-related deaths. Evidence from epidemiological studies has suggested that cocoa might reduce this risk, the possible explanation being that cocoa contains flavonols, which are responsible for the formation of nitric oxide in the body, and nitric oxide causes blood vessel walls to relax and open wider, thereby reducing blood pressure.