Inbox and Environment News Issue 166

 June 8 - 14, 2014: Issue 166

 Nuclear Science and Ocean Acidification by United Nations - Published on 4 Jun 2014

United Nations- About one billion people rely on seafood as a primary source of animal protein. Projects led by the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, are using nuclear and isotopic techniques to examine how marine organisms might respond to future ocean acidification caused by harmful carbon dioxide emissions- protecting our marine species, livelihoods, and economy in the process.


Rob Stokes MP Minister for the Environment Minister for Heritage Minister for the Central Coast Assistant Minister for Planning 

Nature lovers from across the world are invited to submit photos for a photography competition to showcase the beauty and importance of national parks. 

Environment Minister Rob Stokes said the competition is a celebration of the crucial role national parks play in sustaining the health of our planet. The photos will be on exhibition during the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney during November. 

"The Saved photography competition encourages professional and amateur photographers, as well as Instagram lovers, to get out and about in our national parks and start snapping,” Rob Stokes said. 

“NSW has some of the most diverse and awe-inspiring landscapes in the world. We are surrounded by beaches, wilderness and world heritage areas. 

"We want to see what places you love to visit and the parks, animals and people living or working in the places that inspire you.” 

“National parks not only conserve many threatened species but contribute to global food and water supplies and provide clean air, medicine and jobs for millions of people around the world.” 

The competition categories are: 

• Parks: images and stories about national parks of the world; 

• People: images and stories about the interaction between people and nature; and 

• Planet: images and stories about the sustainable use of natural resources in protected areas including the conservation of habitats and species. 

Entries are due by 30 September and the winning pictures will be on display at the IUCN World Parks Congress to be held from 12 - 19 November in Sydney. 

Fondly referred to as "Nature's Olympics" the event will bring together 160 countries and global experts from organisations including UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

You can submit photos via the competition


Rob Stokes MP, Minister for the Environment, Minister for Heritage, Minister for the Central Coast, Assistant Minister for Planning  - MEDIA RELEASE,  Thursday, 5 June 2014 

Two wattles planted today at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney survived either 114 years in poor storage or the rigours of space travel, proving they’re among the 

hardiest seeds on earth and maybe even the universe. Environment Minister Rob Stokes said seeds from Australia’s national emblem, the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) spent six months in space on the International Space Station. 

“NASA astronaut Dr Gregory Chamitoff took seeds with him on the Discovery Mission in May 2008. They endured 2800 orbits of the Earth and were subjected to microgravity and ionising radiation,” Rob Stokes said.  

“The trip into space demonstrates the importance of seed-banking as an insurance policy for our future. It is vitally important we conserve our seeds for future needs – in particular the wattle. 

“Wattles are a key species in bush regeneration as they can help restore damaged eco-systems. It is an important cover-crop which is planted first to protect other species to come through afterwards.  

“NASA is interested in seeds that might be hardy enough to survive lengthy exposure to the space environment and germinate in greenhouses in space or on other planets.  

“Wattles are also great because they grow rapidly and improve soil conditions, adding nutrients and helping break up soil, making it easier for other plants to grow.  

The other planting today is the Blunt-leaf Wattle (Acacia obtusata) successfully germinated from 114 year-old seeds by scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens.  

The seeds were likely to have been collected by Joseph Maiden an early Director of the Royal Botanic Garden for 28 years (from 1896),” Rob Stokes said.  

“The seeds were found by Botanic Garden staff in a vial dated 1899 and were kept in less than ideal conditions and survived through time.  

“Wattles are hard-seeded and extremely well adapted to drought, fire and harsh environments and understanding how they survive in all types of conditions helps 

scientists make the right decisions about their conservation and capacity to restore vegetation.”

Joseph Henry Maiden (born 25 April 1859 and died 16 November 1925) was a botanist who made a major contribution to knowledge of the Australian flora, especially the Eucalyptus genus. This botanist is denoted by the author abbreviationMaiden when citing a botanical name. 

Joseph Maiden was born in St John's Wood in northwest London. He studied science at the University of London, but due to ill health he did not complete the course. As part of his treatment he was advised to take a long sea voyage, and so in 1880 he sailed for New South Wales. In 1881, Maiden was appointed first curator of the Technological Museum in Sydney, remaining there until 1896. He was much interested in the native plants, and in his early days was associated with the Rev.William Woolls in his botanical studies. After his first collection of plants were destroyed in a fire at the Garden Palace near Sydney Botanic Gardens in 1882, he amassed a new collection, which was housed in part of an exhibition hall in the Outer Domain, behind Sydney Hospital.[2] This collection formed the basis for his first book, Useful Native Plants of Australia, published in 1889, in which he acknowledged his debt to the work of Ferdinand von Mueller with whom he had been in correspondence. 

In 1890 he was appointed consulting botanist to the Department of Agriculture and in 1894 was made Superintendent of Technical Education. In 1892 he published a Bibliography of Australian Economic Botany. In 1896, Maiden was appointed Government Botanist and Director of the Botanic Gardens, succeeding Charles Moore, who had been one of his botanical mentors. He immediately set about establishing the colony's first herbarium, as well as a museum, library and Sydney’s first playground. He had in the previous year brought out Part I of The Flowering Plants and Ferns of New South Wales, of which other parts appeared in this and in later years. Another valuable work, the Forest Flora of New South Wales, was published in parts between 1904 and 1924, and his Illustrations of New South Wales Plants began to appear in 1907. In 1909 Maiden published Sir Joseph Banks the "father of Australia". In 1916, in collaboration with Ernst Betche, he published A Census of New South Wales Plants, and in 1920 Maiden published Part I of The Weeds of New South Wales. 

Maiden became the recognised authority on Acacia and Eucalyptus. He published about 45 papers, and his eight-volume A Critical Revision of the Genus Eucalyptus remained a major reference for over fifty years. He was the author of numerous species and the collector of type material for many more.[3] His other interests included reducing sand erosion, promoting wattle cultivation for the tanning industry, and control (or utilisation) of prickly pear.[2] He served as secretary of the (Royal) Geographical Society of Australasia, lectured in agricultural botany and forestry at the University of Sydney, and was a trustee of the Rookwood Church of England Cemetery. He was an active office-bearer in the Royal and Linnean societies of New South Wales, the (Royal) Australian Historical Society, the Wattle Day League, the Horticultural Society and Horticultural Association, the Field Naturalists’ Society, the Town Planning Association of New South Wales, and the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. 

Joseph Maiden retired in 1924, and died at Turramurra, Sydney. Eucalyptus maidenii is named in his honour. He was also appointed a Companion of the Imperial Service Order in 1916. 

Joseph Maiden. (2014, May 13). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

 Triple Treat

White-browed Scrubwrens, Variegated Fairy-wrens and Brown Thornbills share a late autumn bath in Sydney.

 Murray–Darling Basin Conservation Statement – Birdlife Australia

The launch of BirdLife Australia’s long-awaited Murray–Darling Basin Conservation Statement. Compiled by Richard Kingsford, Jenny Lau and James O’Connor, this report highlights the issues which have plagued the Murray–Darling Basin, examines the interventions that have rejuvenated the wetlands, and looks to the future management of the river system. A must-read for anyone interested in the environment, it can be downloaded from theBirdLife Australia website

The survival of some Australian waterbirds is at a tipping point

13 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in the Murray–Darling Basin must be managed to conserve globally significant bird populations

Allowing the situation to worsen has serious implications

Birds respond to conservation interventions

BirdLife Australia is calling for national leadership by the Australian Government

With the survival of some Australian waterbirds hanging in the balance, BirdLife Australia is calling for national leadership by the Australian Government to halt the decline in wetland habitats in the Murray–Darling Basin.

A new report released by BirdLife Australia reveals that major declines in wetland birds have been recorded across the Murray–Darling Basin as a direct result of decades of over-extraction of water and numerous water impoundments, often in combination with debilitating droughts.

With many wetlands and rivers in very poor condition, endangered species such as the Australian Painted Snipe and Australasian Bittern, which depend on healthy wetlands for their survival, have declined dramatically in recent years. “They are the so-called ‘Flagship Species’ which highlight the desperate plight of many Australian waterbirds and other wildlife, reflecting the state of the wetlands and the river system as a whole,” said James O’Connor, Head of Research at BirdLife Australia.

“Without effective management of our water resources in the Murray–Darling Basin, the fate of these birds and many like them is grim.”

BirdLife Australia has identified 13 ‘Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas’ (IBAs) throughout the Murray–Darling Basin with wetland and floodplain habitats that support globally significant populations of waterbirds. “With effective water management, especially by providing adequate environmental water flows at the right time, these sites will provide a safe haven for many waterbirds and other wildlife,” added Dr Jenny Lau, BirdLife Australia’s Conservation Manager. “This has already been shown — the Barmah-Millewa IBA, where wetlands have received environmental water, has seen prolific breeding in egret colonies for the first time in decades.”

“Conservation measures can make a real difference,” Dr Lau continued. “BirdLife Australia is working with industry and government to identify and implement solutions that will reap real, long-lasting results — such as working with the rice industry in the Riverina, which has a crucial role in the protection of the Australasian Bittern.”

“It’s not always easy, but by investing in the proper infrastructure and listening to people with the right expertise, returning the wetlands of the Murray–Darling Basin to a healthy state will not only rescue myriad waterbirds and other wildlife, but improve the water quality throughout the river system, upon which so much depends.”

However, the work of BirdLife Australia and its partners can only go so far, and we call on state and federal governments to show responsibility and leadership to ensure that the wetlands of the Murray–Darling Basin are not allowed to waste away under a veil of inaction, or worse still, deliberate vandalism. Further, we are also calling for a National Wetlands Policy that accounts for cumulative impact to our wetland-dependent species everywhere in Australia.

It’s not just for the birds.

 Call to ban trade on iconic nautilus seashell

May 28, 2014 - A palaeontologist is calling for a global ban on the trade of the highly sought-after Nautilus seashell. Peter Ward, new Professor in the University's Sprigg Geobiology Centre, has just returned from the Philippines where he discovered the Nautilus was close to extinction at sites known for Nautilus fishing.

Professor Ward is taking his findings from the Philippines and other expeditions to a meeting in Washington DC next week of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This meeting will determine US policy on Nautilus trade before the next round of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

"The Nautilus situation we found in the Philippines was mind-boggling," says Professor Ward. "The Philippines have been at the centre of Nautilus fishing for decades. Now it is just about extinct there. And it is not just Nautilus. In the same environments we found almost no larger fish at all where there should be large schools of many different species."

Nautilus − often called "living fossils" because they have survived relatively unchanged for millions of years − live at the bottom of the sea at depths of 100-600 metres in deep reefs in the Indo-Pacific region, including Australia.

Desired for their beautiful shells, they are heavily fished and traded internationally ̶ commonly seen on websites like eBay for as much as AU$200, depending on size.

"We know that the largest Nautilus in the world come from WA, and we are seeing them being sold on eBay even though there is supposed to be regulation in Australia," says Professor Ward. "There is good reason for concern about WA deep reefs."

Over the past four years, Professor Ward has conducted a census of Nautilus using special underwater technology developed at University of Queensland. Professor Ward has studied Nautilus populations at the Great Barrier Reef, Fiji, American Samoa and the central Philippine Islands.

"We found Nautilus at rates of 10-15 per square kilometre in the Great Barrier Reef, but in the Philippines they were 100-200 times more rare than that ̶ virtually extinct in the Bohol Strait and completely gone, as far as we could see, from three other classic fishing locations.

"Nautilus is the 'canary in the coalmine' of the deep reef environment," he says. "It tells us about the health of our deeper reefs where little ecological study is done. When Nautilus isn't there, we know that the other fish at those depths are also at risk from overfishing or other environmental factors. We cannot rule out high acidity and warming of these formerly cool, deep waters caused by climate change, and from rising levels of silt caused by nearby deforestation."

Professor Ward is best known globally for his work and theories on the mass extinctions of Earth's history. "Nautilus has survived every single mass extinction event that's been thrown at it over half a billion years, now it's being wiped out by humans to sit on a bathroom shelf or as a pretty button on someone's shirt," he says.

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Adelaide. Photo: The endangered Nautilus. Credit: Image courtesy of University of Adelaide

 Crown Lands Legislation White Paper - NSW Government invites submissions on the Crown Lands Legislation White Paper

The NSW Government recently undertook a comprehensive review of all the legislation that regulates Crown land. The Government plans to develop consolidated, streamlined legislation to underpin the management of Crown land in the future. The White Paper contains proposals to develop one new piece of legislation that will replace eight existing Acts, streamline existing provisions, simplify the management of Crown reserves and reduce red tape.

The White Paper can be downloaded from the 'Consultation Website' link located at the bottom of this section.

You can submit your comments in writing to NSW Trade & Investment in any of the following ways:

Post: Crown Lands Review, NSW Trade & Investment, PO Box 2185, DANGAR NSW 2309

Email: Submit your feedback using the 'Crown Lands Information' link under 'More Information'.

The Government invites written submissions on the White Paper until 20 June 2014.

Comprehensive review of NSW Crown Land Management

As part of the NSW Government’s commitment to cutting red tape and updating legislation to improve outcomes, a comprehensive review into the management of Crown land has been completed. The Review started in June 2012, with the aim of improving management of Crown land and increasing the benefits and returns from Crown land to the community.

The Review report has been considered by Government and the Government’s response to the report is now available:

Crown Lands Management Review Summary and Government response (PDF 1.22MB)

Crown Lands Management Review Report 2013 (PDF 1.1MB)

White Paper

The Crown Lands Legislation White Paper contains proposals to develop one new piece of legislation that will replace eight existing Acts, streamline existing provisions, simplify the management of Crown reserves and reduce red tape.

 Crown Lands Legislation White Paper (PDF 920KB)

Comments are welcome on the White Paper and will be open until 20 June 2014 at 5pm. For more information about the White paper and how to make a submission, go to White Paper consultation.  

See all links to Documents pages at:  HERE

 Gemfish – Proposal to List as Threatened Species – Have Your Say

Notice of determination - Gemfish proposed listing as a vulnerable species.

The Fisheries Scientific Committee (FSC) has made a proposed determination (PDF 58.7 KB) to list Gemfish (Rexea solandri) in the Threatened Species Schedules of the Fisheries Management Act 1994.

In accordance with criteria prescribed by the Fisheries Management (General) Regulation 2010, the FSC reviewed information and found that the Gemfish is facing a high risk of extinction in NSW in the medium-term future, and the species is eligible to be listed as Vulnerable in Part 1 of Schedule 5 of the Act.

The committee invites written submissions on the proposed determination which should be forwarded to:


Post: Fisheries Scientific Committee, c/- NSW Department of Primary Industries, PO Box 1305, CROWS NEST NSW 1585

Submissions must be received before 6:00 pm on Friday 13 June 2014.

Please note that all submissions may be made public unless confidentiality is specifically requested.

For further information contact the FSC's Executive Officer by emailing:

See all documents


How would you cast your vote for the Reef?

It’s here. A window of opportunity has opened for the Reef…

When dredging and dumping in World Heritage waters at Abbot Point was approved earlier this year, it was a massive blow. It was evidence that the Australian Government couldn’t be trusted to protect our national icon, on their own.

Then three weeks ago, the tide turned.

UNESCO - the UN body responsible for protecting World Heritage places - released an alarming assessment of the Reef. It highlighted dumping as an unacceptable threat to the Reef - putting the Reef at risk of being listed as ‘in danger’ - the World Heritage list of shame.

Not only would this be a major embarrassment for Australia’s international reputation, but it would damage Australia’s tourism industry - worth 63,000 jobs and $6 billion per year - and the local communities that depend on it.

In just three weeks, the World Heritage Committee will hold a crucial vote that could help stop the rapid industrial development of the Reef.

For the first time, you get to vote too.


How does the vote work? YouNesco is a new initiative to make sure that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee hears from the public - not just Governments - before they make big decisions. It’s a chance to have a say on decisions that are normally made behind closed doors.

You vote through YouNesco - we package up the votes and deliver them directly to the World Heritage Committee at their meeting. This year the meeting is in Doha and Rick Leck from WWF will be there on behalf of Fight for the Reef, delivering the votes to the Committeeon 16 June.

We know that the international pressure of respected bodies like UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee is vital.

This is our chance to help deliver the first step in Reef protection - a ban on dumping - before it’s too late. Let’s make it happen!


Felicity Wishart

on behalf of the Fight for the Reef team

 Ozone review to address environment and safety concerns - Fed. Govt. Media Release

The Government is undertaking a comprehensive review of Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas legislation to ensure continued protection of the environment, while reducing the complexity for businesses and individuals who operate under the legislation.

The ozone legislation has not been comprehensively reviewed since 2001. This review will:

•    explore opportunities to reduce compliance costs for more than 80,000 businesses and individuals covered by the legislation 

•    identify options to reduce emissions of synthetic greenhouse gases

•    work co-operatively with business and state and territory governments to address the impacts and impediments to adopting new low emission technologies

•    consider the way in which the legislation interacts with workplace health and safety issues

Protecting the ozone layer is one of the world’s great environmental success stories. The ozone layer is expected to recover by the middle of this century as a result of global action taken through the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. 

Alternatives gases such as hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide and ammonia when used safely play an important role in reducing the impact of refrigerants on ozone depletion and climate change. However, many alternatives are highly flammable and toxic.

This review will examine how to address potential risks which are being increasingly reported due to the impact of Labor’s carbon tax on Australia’s refrigeration and air-conditioning industry from the sudden jump in costs for synthetic greenhouse gases.

The Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Airconditioning and Heating has raised safety concerns that the carbon tax has led to the unsafe handling and use of alternate gases in systems that were not designed for their use. 

As a consequence the Government has raised industry’s concerns with the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities who represent all jurisdictions on these matters.

The Department of the Environment will continue to work closely with industry and state and territory work health and safety regulators to improve awareness of the safety risks.

All members of the refrigeration and air-conditioning industry are urged to contact the relevant workplace health and safety organisation in their jurisdiction with any safety concerns. Contacts are available on the SafeWork Australia website 

Businesses and the community will be consulted throughout the Ozone review. Submissions on the Terms of Reference are invited by 18 July 2014. An interim report is expected to be available for comment by the end of 2014. A final report will be delivered to the Government in mid-2015.

Further information including Terms of Reference for the review can be accessed on the Department of the Environment’s website

 Environmental 'one-two punch' imperils Amazonian forests

June 4, 2014 - One of the world's longest-running ecological studies has revealed that Amazonian forests are being altered by multiple environmental threats -- creating even greater perils for the world's largest rainforest. "It's like a boxer getting hit by a flurry of punches," says lead author William Laurance of James Cook University in Cairns, Australia.

For the past 35 years, a team of Brazilian and international researchers has studied how diverse communities of trees and vines respond when the Amazonian rainforest is fragmented by cattle ranching.

The fragmented forests, they found, change rapidly. "Lots of trees have died while vines, which favor disturbed forests, proliferate rapidly," said Jose Luis Camargo of Brazil's National Institute for Amazonian Research.

But the biggest surprise is that nearby undisturbed forests, which were also being carefully studied, changed as well. Trees there grew and died faster, and the vines also multiplied.

"These changes might be driven by increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," said Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University in Virginia, USA, who initiated the long-term study. "Plants use carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and when it increases, the forest evidently becomes more unstable and dynamic, as long as the soils have enough nutrients."

The investigators say a key implication is that many forests are being affected not only by land-use changes such as habitat fragmentation, but also by global-scale changes such as rising carbon dioxide and climate change. In some cases different drivers reinforce one another, increasing their impacts on forests.

"A big implication is that it's going to be harder to predict future changes to ecosystems if they're being affected by several environmental drivers," said Lovejoy.

The researchers expect such changes to increase in the future.

"Humans continue to dump billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year, and it's evidently affecting even the remotest forests on Earth," said Laurance.

William F. Laurance, Ana S. Andrade, Ainhoa Magrach, José Camargo, Mason Campbell, Philip M. Fearnside, Will Edwards, Jefferson J. Valsko, Thomas E. Lovejoy, Susan G. Laurance.APPARENT ENVIRONMENTAL SYNERGISM DRIVES THE DYNAMICS OF AMAZONIAN FOREST FRAGMENTS. Ecology, 2014; 140528195020002 DOI: 10.1890/14-0330.1

 New species discovered on Kimberley Bush Blitz - 3 June 2014

A possible new species of rainbow fish, a new species of wolf spider that thinks it’s a water spider, and new species of pseudoscorpion, a tiny little creature that that looks like a scorpion but isn’t, are among numerous new species found on a Bush Blitz expedition in the Kimberley this week.

“The team believes they’ve found a number of species that could be completely new to science and a butterfly that is a new record for Western Australia. This is the first new record of butterfly in Western Australia for about 10 years,” said Senator Simon Birmingham, Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment.

“Traditional owners and science teachers joined more than a dozen scientists on the expedition, held on the Indigenous Land Corporation’s Karunjie and Durack stations.

“Indigenous knowledge has been instrumental in the Kimberley blitz, with the Ngarinyin people helping researchers select survey sites. Traditional owners have also used their skills in contemporary survey techniques, helping to net fish, set small mammal traps and wield insect nets.

“Over the last four years Bush Blitz has discovered more than 700 new species, and provided crucial biodiversity data to help conservation managers look after their land and the incredible variety of plants and animals it contains,” he said.

Cassandra Nichols, Director of Programs for Earthwatch Australia said five teachers had joined the blitz from schools across the country, as part of the Bush Blitz Teach Live project.

“The Kimberley blitz is the second time we’ve involved teachers in an expedition through the Bush Blitz Teach Live project, and it was a huge success,” Ms Nichols said.

“The excitement of the teachers has been tangible, and they’re passing that enthusiasm for nature straight back to their students, through blogs, communication forums and Skype,” Ms Nichols said.

“With the blitz happening during Reconciliation Week, Aboriginal culture and knowledge was a strong theme for the teachers, and they’ve enjoyed learning from the Ngarinyin people on site.”

Bush Blitz is a partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities and Earthwatch Australia. The innovative program sends scientists out into the field to record the fascinating plants and animals in conservation areas across Australia.

The Kimberley expedition was run in partnership with the Kimberley Land Council and the Indigenous Land Corporation.


Rob Stokes MP, Minister for the Environment, Minister for Heritage, Minister for the Central Coast, Assistant Minister for Planning  - MEDIA RELEASE, Wednesday, 4 June 2014 

The NSW Government has teamed up with Google to go off-road and map some of NSW's most stunning national parks. The partnership involves NSW National Parks and Wildlife staff wearing a special backpack equipped with the Street View camera system, hiking through various landscapes and capturing 360 degree imagery to map the walks. 

Environment Minister Rob Stokes today joined one of the first mapping exercises, in Sydney Harbour National Park.  

“Over the next few months 16 parks including the Blue Mountains and the world’s second oldest national park, Royal National Park in Sydney’s south, will be mapped by Google and NPWS,” Rob Stokes said.  

“The imagery will be stitched into panoramic digital renderings of these walks and then published on Google’s Street View gallery of the world which will be unveiled at the IUCN World Parks Congress hosted in Sydney this November. 

“By using the Google Street View Trekker, we can make our parks even more accessible to the public. 

"If you've ever dreamed of going to one of our spectacular parks, or are planning a trip, the Street View imagery will give you a way to explore, plan you adventure and learn about the area beforehand. 

"There's nothing quite like looking at the amazing views across the Pacific Ocean towards North and South Head or gazing across the Blue Mountains, but now everyone will be able to gain an appreciation of the landscapes within our state.” 

Megan Boundey, Product Manager for Google Maps in Australia, said: “We’re thrilled to be working with NSW National Parks as the first partner in our pilot Trekker Loan Program for Australia. By loaning the equipment to organisations around the world, we can capture images from new locations more quickly, and improve our ability share more of Australia’s beautiful landscapes with the world.” 

NSW National Parks is the first organisation in Australia to be part of the Google Trekker loan program, which sees third party organisations, NGO’s and not-for-profits apply to borrow Trekker to collect imagery of hard to reach places and help map the world.

 JCU marine pioneer receives Australian honour – May 30th, 2014

JCU’s excellence in marine and tropical biology continues to shine with a JCU fish ecologist to receive the premier prize in Australian marine science, it was announced this week. Professor Geoffrey Jones (pictured above) will receive the 2014 Jubilee Award of the Australian Marine Sciences Association (AMSA) at their annual conference in July. The award honours excellence in marine research and is presented to a scientist who has made an outstanding contribution to marine research in Australia.

Professor Jones, from the School of Marine and Tropical Biology at JCU and a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, conducted pioneering research on reef fish ecology.

Professor Jones has made important and unique contributions in the areas of larval connectivity, ecological interactions, and the dynamics of reef fish populations. His research has had a major impact on the understanding of how marine fish populations function and has also influenced the design and management of Marine Protected Areas in Australia and worldwide.

Associate Professor Sabine Dittmann, National President of AMSA, said the award recognises that Professor Jones pioneered the development of new methods to directly determine where the larvae of reef fishes go.

“He was the first to show that fish populations can have high levels of self-recruitment and his ground-breaking research has provided insights that have changed paradigms in reef fish ecology,” Professor Dittmann said.

Professor Jones said he was astounded at the recognition.

“It is humbling to be counted among the remarkable recipients of this award, several of whom have been of huge inspiration to me,” he said.

Professor Philip Munday from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies also highlighted the importance of Professor Jones’ work.

“Geoff’s research has changed the way we think about connectivity of marine populations, and the techniques he has employed have become the gold standard in this field of study,” he said. “His research has been pivotal in demonstrating the close links between coral reef habitats and the structure of reef fish populations, including the risk of population decline in reef fishes caused by the deteriorating state of coral reef habitats.”

The Jubilee Award will be officially presented at the 2014 AMSA Conference “Investigating our Marine Nation” in Canberra in early July. (

A/Prof Dittmann added “this award came as a surprise for Professor Jones and, unfortunately, he will be overseas at the time. However, he will video-link into the conference for the receipt of this prestigious recognition of his research achievements.”

AMSA is Australia’s leading association of marine scientists with over 1,000 members spread across all states and territories (

 Solving the puzzle of ice age climates: Southern Ocean and explanation for 'Last Glacial Maximum'

June 2, 2014 - The paleoclimate record for the last ice age - a time 21,000 years ago called the "Last Glacial Maximum" (LGM) - tells of a cold Earth whose northern continents were covered by vast ice sheets. Chemical traces from plankton fossils in deep-sea sediments reveal rearranged ocean water masses, as well as extended sea ice coverage off Antarctica. Air bubbles in ice cores show that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was far below levels seen before the Industrial Revolution.

While ice ages are set into motion by Earth's slow wobbles in its transit around the sun, researchers agree that the solar-energy decrease alone wasn't enough to cause this glacial state. Paleoclimatologists have been trying to explain the actual mechanism behind these changes for 200 years.

"We have all these scattered pieces of information about changes in the ocean, atmosphere, and ice cover," says Raffaele Ferrari, the Breene M. Kerr Professor of Physical Oceanography in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, "and what we really want to see is how they all fit together."

Researchers have always suspected that the answer must lie somewhere in the oceans. Powerful regulators of Earth's climate, the oceans store vast amounts of organic carbon for thousands of years, keeping it from escaping into the atmosphere as CO2. Seawater also takes up CO2 from the atmosphere via photosynthesizing microbes at the surface, and via circulation patterns.

In a new application of ocean physics, Ferrari, along with Malte Jansen PhD '12 of Princeton University and others at the California Institute of Technology, have found a new approach to the puzzle, which they detail in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lung of the ocean

The researchers focused on the Southern Ocean, which encircles Antarctica - a critical part of the carbon cycle because it provides a connection between the atmosphere and the deep ocean abyss. Ruffled by the winds whipping around Antarctica, the Southern Ocean is one of the only places where the deepest carbon-rich waters ever rise to the surface, to "breathe" CO2 in and out.

The modern-day Southern Ocean has a lot of room to breathe: Deeper, carbon-rich waters are constantly mixing into the waters above, a process enhanced by turbulence as water runs over jagged, deep-ocean ridges.

But during the LGM, permanent sea ice covered much more of the Southern Ocean's surface. Ferrari and colleagues decided to explore how that extended sea ice would have affected the Southern Ocean's ability to exchange CO2 with the atmosphere.

Shock to the system

This question demanded the use of the field's accumulated knowledge of ocean physics. Using a mathematical equation that describes the wind-driven ocean circulation patterns around Antarctica, the researchers calculated the amount of water that was trapped under the sea ice by currents in the LGM. They found that the shock to the entire Earth from this added ice cover was massive: The ice covered the only spot where the deep ocean ever got to breathe. Since the sea ice capped these deep waters, the Southern Ocean's CO2 was never exhaled to the atmosphere.

The researchers then saw a link between the sea ice change and the massive rearrangement of ocean waters that is evident in the paleoclimate record. Under the expanded sea ice, a greater amount of upwelled deep water sank back downward. Southern Ocean abyssal water eventually filled a greater volume of the entire midlevel and lower ocean - lifting the interface between upper and lower waters to a shallower depth, such that the deep, carbon-rich waters lost contact with the upper ocean. Breathing less, the ocean could store a lot more carbon.

A Southern Ocean suffocated by sea ice, the researchers say,helps explain the big drop in atmospheric CO2 during the LGM.

Dependent relationship

The study suggests a dynamic link between sea-ice expansion and the increase of ocean water insulated from the atmosphere, which the field has long treated as independent events. This insight takes on extra relevance in light of the fact that paleoclimatologists need to explain not just the very low levels of atmospheric CO2during the last ice age, but also the fact that this happened during each of the last four glacial periods, as the paleoclimate record reveals.

Ferrari says that it never made sense to argue that independent changes drew down CO2 by the exact same amount in every ice age. "To me, that means that all the events that co-occurred must be incredibly tightly linked, without much freedom to drift beyond a narrow margin," he says. "If there is a causality effect among the events at the start of an ice age, then they could happen in the same ratio."

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The original article was written by Genevieve Wanucha. Image: Earth from near space (stock image). Credit: © dell / Fotolia

 Recreational fishing poses threat to shore-nesting birds - 30 May 2014

Fish waste left on beaches by recreational fishers could harm shore-nesting birds by attracting native crows that eat the birds’ eggs, a UNSW-led study shows.

Researchers found that the activity of Australian ravens was 17 times higher near nests that had fish carcasses nearby, than near nests without carcasses.

The study also revealed that foxes were not the culprits in loss of eggs from nests as is often assumed.

“Reducing the amount of waste discarded on beaches will benefit shore-nesting birds like red-capped plovers. Even small quantities of fish scraps can increase the activity of nest predators,” says study lead author, James Rees, of the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

The study is published in the journal Animal Conservation.

“Poison baits are used to kill foxes in national parks because it is believed they are major predators of nests. But our research shows that ravens may be having a far greater impact than foxes,” says senior author of the study, Dr Mike Letnic, of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science.

In Australia, populations of beach-nesting birds are declining, and predation of their nests is a contributing factor.

The team placed artificial nests resembling those of red-capped plovers at sites one kilometre apart along Stockton Beach near Newcastle on the NSW coast.

Two Japanese quail eggs were placed in each nest, and a fish carcass was placed nearby at half the sites.  The researchers also monitored the tracks of animals near the nests.

After 72 hours, predators had attacked 96 per cent of the nests near carcasses, compared with only 30 per cent of the nests free of fish waste.

“Ravens were identified as the culprits for 80 per cent of the plundered nests, and we did not find any sea gull or fox tracks near any of the nests where eggs were destroyed,” says Dr Letnic.

“Fishers can help protect our shore-nesting birds from predatory ravens by burying or disposing of their fish waste,” says Mr Rees.

The team includes researchers from UNSW, the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney.

Image: A red-capped plover. Image: Ben Parkhurst

 Tree hugging helps koalas keep their cool

June 4, 2014 - Australia's koalas cope with extreme heat by resting against cooler tree trunks, new research has revealed. Thermal imaging uncovered the koalas' cool plan, confirming that they choose to hug trees that can be more than 5°C cooler than the air during hot weather.

Researchers observed the behavior of 30 koalas during hot weather at French Island, Victoria. Co-author Andrew Krockenberger from James Cook University in Cairns, in far north-east Australia, says heat wave events can hit koala populations hard.

"We know that about a quarter of the koalas in one population in New South Wales died during a heat wave in 2009," Professor Krockenberger said.

"Understanding the types of factors that can make some populations more resilient is important." Koalas also pant and lick their fur to cool down, but that can lead to dehydration.

"Access to these trees can save about half the water a koala would need to keep cool on a hot day," lead researcher Dr Natalie Briscoe, from the University of Melbourne, said.

"Access to cool tree trunks would significantly reduce the amount of heat stress for koalas." Co-author Dr Michael Kearney said the findings were important as climate change is bringing about more extreme weather.

Researchers used a portable weather station on a long pole to measure what the koalas were experiencing in the places they chose to sit, compared to other places available to them.

"When we took the heat imagery it dramatically confirmed our idea that 'tree hugging' was an important cooling behavior in extreme heat," Dr Michael Kearney said.

"Cool tree trunks are likely to be an important microhabitat during hot weather for other tree dwelling species including primates, leopards, birds and invertebrates.

"The availability of cooler trees should be considered when assessing habitat suitability under current and future climate scenarios."

Professor Krockenberger's research includes some of Australia's warmest koalas - the population on Magnetic Island, in the country's tropical northeast.

"These findings underscore the importance of trees to koalas especially, in the context of climate extremes," he said.

"In this study the coolest trees were acacias. They're not a koala food tree, but clearly they can be important when it comes to coping with the heat."

N. J. Briscoe, K. A. Handasyde, S. R. Griffiths, W. P. Porter, A. Krockenberger, M. R. Kearney. Tree-hugging koalas demonstrate a novel thermoregulatory mechanism for arboreal mammals. Biology Letters, 2014; 10 (6): 20140235 DOI:10.1098/rsbl.2014.0235

Picture: Sleeping koalas in trees (stock image). Australia's koalas cope with extreme heat by resting against cooler tree trunks, new research has revealed. Credit: © daphot75 / Fotolia

 Cave temperature study could improve climate change predictions - 5 June 2014

Researchers studying the hydrology of Wellington Caves in western NSW have made a discovery that challenges a key assumption used to reconstruct past climates from cave deposits.

Published in Nature's open access journal Scientific Reports, the research found that there can be a 1.5° Celsius difference between the temperature of the air in the cave and the drip water that forms the stalactite.

Stalactites and other cave formations – collectively known as speleothems – form when rainwater drips from the surface into the cave system, picking up minerals along the way that solidify once exposed to the cave air.

Scientists had previously assumed that speleothems formed at a temperature equal to the average temperature outside the cave and used this assumption to construct records of past climate variations, says lead author Dr Mark Cuthbert, holder of a European Community-funded Marie Curie Research Fellowship at UNSW's Connected Waters Initiative.

"However that assumption had never been tested," he says. "The 1.5°C difference is very significant if you're looking at past climate change. It is similar to the kind of change in temperature that we've had in the last 12,000 years naturally during the Holocene."

The difference in temperature is attributed to evaporative cooling, which occurs as the water moves along the cave wall before reaching the point at which it drips and forms the speleothem.

"If you were looking at a speleothem formed in that environment and didn't know this process of evaporative cooling was happening, you might jump to the wrong conclusions about what the climate outside the cave was like at the time the speleothem formed," says co-author Monika Markowska, a Research Scientist at the Institute for Environmental Research at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

ANSTO researchers have developed expertise in modelling climate change using nuclear techniques such as neutron activation soil analysis and carbon 14 dating.

The research team also includes Professor Andy Baker, Director of the Connected Waters Initiative (CWI) and other CWI researchers.

The same researchers recently found that other important evaporative effects occur between the soil and the cave that also need to be taken into account when interpreting speleothems as records of climate change.

"Further experimental work is underway to investigate the influence of the geometry, orientation, the thermal properties of a particular formation, and the water film thicknesses, on the relative cooling rate," the researchers say in their paper.

Dr Cuthbert hopes that ongoing research will lead to numerical models that take into account all the different variables in a cave system that might influence climate change calculations.

Speleothem chemistry is one of several methods used to reconstruct past climates alongside other techniques including sediments, ice cores, trees and corals. Caves can yield particularly high-resolution records going back several hundred thousand years.

Photo: Cave drip water monitoring. Data loggers sit in the yellow tubes and water is collected in the bottles underneath. (Photo credit: Connected Waters Initiative) 

 Modern ocean acidification is outpacing ancient upheaval: Rate may be ten times faster

June 2, 2014 - Some 56 million years ago, a massive pulse of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere sent global temperatures soaring. In the oceans, carbonate sediments dissolved, some organisms went extinct and others evolved. 

Scientists have long suspected that ocean acidification caused the crisis - similar to today, as humanmade CO2 combines with seawater to change its chemistry. Now, for the first time, scientists have quantified the extent of surface acidification from those ancient days, and the news is not good: the oceans are on track to acidify at least as much as they did then, only at a much faster rate.

In a study published in the latest issue of Paleoceanography, the scientists estimate that ocean acidity increased by about 100 percent in a few thousand years or more, and stayed that way for the next 70,000 years. In this radically changed environment, some creatures died out while others adapted and evolved. The study is the first to use the chemical composition of fossils to reconstruct surface ocean acidity at the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a period of intense warming on land and throughout the oceans due to high CO2.

"This could be the closest geological analog to modern ocean acidification," said study coauthor Bärbel Hönisch, a paleoceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "As massive as it was, it still happened about 10 times more slowly than what we are doing today."

The oceans have absorbed about a third of the carbon humans have pumped into the air since industrialization, helping to keep earth's thermostat lower than it would be otherwise. But that uptake of carbon has come at a price. Chemical reactions caused by that excess CO2 have made seawater grow more acidic, depleting it of the carbonate ions that corals, mollusks and calcifying plankton need to build their shells and skeletons.

In the last 150 years or so, the pH of the oceans has dropped substantially, from 8.2 to 8.1-equivalent to a 25 percent increase in acidity. By the end of the century, ocean pH is projected to fall another 0.3 pH units, to 7.8. While the researchers found a comparable pH drop during the PETM-0.3 units-the shift happened over a few thousand years.

"We are dumping carbon in the atmosphere and ocean at a much higher rate today - within centuries," said study coauthor Richard Zeebe, a paleoceanographer at the University of Hawaii. "If we continue on the emissions path we are on right now, acidification of the surface ocean will be way more dramatic than during the PETM."

The study confirms that the acidified conditions lasted for 70,000 years or more, consistent with previous model-based estimates. "It didn't bounce back right away," said Timothy Bralower, a researcher at Penn State who was not involved in the study. "It took tens of thousands of years to recover."

From seafloor sediments drilled off Japan, the researchers analyzed the shells of plankton that lived at the surface of the ocean during the PETM. Two different methods for measuring ocean chemistry at the time - the ratio of boron isotopes in their shells, and the amount of boron -arrived at similar estimates of acidification. "It's really showing us clear evidence of a change in pH for the first time," said Bralower.

What caused the burst of carbon at the PETM is still unclear. One popular explanation is that an overall warming trend may have sent a pulse of methane from the seafloor into the air, setting off events that released more earth-warming gases into the air and oceans. Up to half of the tiny animals that live in mud on the seafloor - benthic foraminifera - died out during the PETM, possibly along with life further up the food chain.

Other species thrived in this changed environment and new ones evolved. In the oceans, dinoflagellates extended their range from the tropics to the Arctic, while on land, hoofed animals and primates appeared for the first time. Eventually, the oceans and atmosphere recovered as elements from eroded rocks washed into the sea and neutralized the acid.

Today, signs are already emerging that some marine life may be in trouble. In a recent study led by Nina Bednaršedk at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than half of the tiny planktic snails, or pteropods, that she and her team studied off the coast of Washington, Oregon and California showed badly dissolved shells. Ocean acidification has been linked to the widespread death of baby oysters off Washington and Oregon since 2005, and may also pose a threat to coral reefs, which are under additional pressure from pollution and warming ocean temperatures.

"Seawater carbonate chemistry is complex but the mechanism underlying ocean acidification is very simple," said study lead author Donald Penman, a graduate student at University of California at Santa Cruz. "We can make accurate predictions about how carbonate chemistry will respond to increasing carbon dioxide levels. The real unknown is how individual organisms will respond and how that cascades through ecosystems."

Donald E. Penman, Bärbel Hönisch, Richard E. Zeebe, Ellen Thomas, James C. Zachos. Rapid and sustained surface ocean acidification during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Paleoceanography, 2014; DOI:10.1002/2014PA002621

Picture Ocean acidification in the modern ocean may already be affecting some marine life, as shown by the partly dissolved shell of this planktic snail, or pteropod, caught off the Pacific Northwest. Credit: Nina Bednaršedk/NOAA

 Humans, not climate, to blame for Ice Age-era disappearance of large mammals, study concludes

June 4, 2014 - Was it humankind or climate change that caused the extinction of a considerable number of large mammals about the time of the last Ice Age? Researchers have carried out the first global analysis of the extinction of the large animals, and the conclusion is clear - humans are to blame. The study unequivocally points to humans as the cause of the mass extinction of large animals all over the world during the course of the last 100,000 years. "Our results strongly underline the fact that human expansion throughout the world has meant an enormous loss of large animals," says Postdoctoral Fellow Søren Faurby, Aarhus University.

Was it due to climate change?

For almost 50 years, scientists have been discussing what led to the mass extinction of large animals (also known as megafauna) during and immediately after the last Ice Age.

One of two leading theories states that the large animals became extinct as a result of climate change. There were significant climate changes, especially towards the end of the last Ice Age - just as there had been during previous Ice Ages - and this meant that many species no longer had the potential to find suitable habitats and they died out as a result. However, because the last Ice Age was just one in a long series of Ice Ages, it is puzzling that a corresponding extinction of large animals did not take place during the earlier ones.

Theory of overkill

The other theory concerning the extinction of the animals is 'overkill'. Modern man spread from Africa to all parts of the world during the course of a little more than the last 100,000 years. In simple terms, the overkill hypothesis states that modern man exterminated many of the large animal species on arrival in the new continents. This was either because their populations could not withstand human hunting, or for indirect reasons such as the loss of their prey, which were also hunted by humans.

First global mapping

In their study, the researchers produced the first global analysis and relatively fine-grained mapping of all the large mammals (with a body weight of at least 10 kg) that existed during the period 132,000-1,000 years ago - the period during which the extinction in question took place. They were thus able to study the geographical variation in the percentage of large species that became extinct on a much finer scale than previously achieved.

The researchers found that a total of 177 species of large mammals disappeared during this period - a massive loss. Africa 'only' lost 18 species and Europe 19, while Asia lost 38 species, Australia and the surrounding area 26, North America 43 and South America a total of 62 species of large mammals.

The extinction of the large animals took place in virtually all climate zones and affected cold-adapted species such as woolly mammoths, temperate species such as forest elephants and giant deer, and tropical species such as giant cape buffalo and some giant sloths. It was observed on virtually every continent, although a particularly large number of animals became extinct in North and South America, where species including sabre-toothed cats, mastodons, giant sloths and giant armadillos disappeared, and in Australia, which lost animals such as giant kangaroos, giant wombats and marsupial lions. There were also fairly large losses in Europe and Asia, including a number of elephants, rhinoceroses and giant deer.

Weak climate effect

The results show that the correlation between climate change - i.e. the variation in temperature and precipitation between glacials and interglacials - and the loss of megafauna is weak, and can only be seen in one sub-region, namely Eurasia (Europe and Asia). "The significant loss of megafauna all over the world can therefore not be explained by climate change, even though it has definitely played a role as a driving force in changing the distribution of some species of animals. Reindeer and polar foxes were found in Central Europe during the Ice Age, for example, but they withdrew northwards as the climate became warmer," says Postdoctoral Fellow Christopher Sandom, Aarhus University.

Extinction linked to humans

On the other hand, the results show a very strong correlation between the extinction and the history of human expansion. "We consistently find very large rates of extinction in areas where there had been no contact between wildlife and primitive human races, and which were suddenly confronted by fully developed modern humans (Homo sapiens). In general, at least 30% of the large species of animals disappeared from all such areas," says Professor Jens-Christian Svenning, Aarhus University.

The researchers' geographical analysis thereby points very strongly at humans as the cause of the loss of most of the large animals.

The results also draw a straight line from the prehistoric extinction of large animals via the historical regional or global extermination due to hunting (American bison, European bison, quagga, Eurasian wild horse or tarpan, and many others) to the current critical situation for a considerable number of large animals as a result of poaching and hunting (e.g. the rhino poaching epidemic).

C. Sandom, S. Faurby, B. Sandel, J.-C. Svenning. Global late Quaternary megafauna extinctions linked to humans, not climate change. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2014; 281 (1787): 20133254 DOI:10.1098/rspb.2013.3254

Uncertainty holding community sector back     -      3 June 2014

A lack of certainty, including about funding, is a key problem affecting the community sector’s ability to deliver crucial services, new research has revealed.

The research, the first of its kind in the sector, is detailed in a report released today by UNSW's Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) and the Council of Social Service, NSW (NCOSS). The research was made possible with funding from the Department of Family and Community Services.

The research, conducted by SPRC's Dr Natasha Cortis and Dr Megan Blaxland looks at the characteristics of community services and the trends in their experiences working within the sector and with government.

Dr Cortis said, “This is the best data we have about how organisations are faring in the current environment. There has been anecdotal evidence of many of the trends revealed but now we have the hard data to back it up.

“We will be conducting this research again next year to deliver an annual snap shot of the sector, so this report provides a bench mark for tracking the state of the community sector over time.”

NCOSS CEO Alison Peters said the data would help identify what the sector needs to function most effectively into the future and what the sector and government can do to support that. 

“We’ve got some great news from the research which shows respondents felt their relationship with government had improved in the last five years. However there are some clear areas for improvement.

“Only 20% of respondents felt funding models available encouraged flexible service delivery and only 16% felt funding models were sustainable all or most of the time. Only 34% felt they knew enough in advance whether funding would be renewed.”

NCOSS CEO Alison Peters said a lack of sustainable funding often left services without the ability to develop middle-to-long term strategies which allow more effective use of resources and better services overall.  

“NSW relies on the community sector to deliver crucial services so we should make sure they are in a position to make the best use of the funding available. This means allowing for planning into the future.

“No business could function effectively without long term financial certainty and community services are no different.

“The sector must now work closely with government to consolidate where things are going well and find solutions where improvement is needed.”

Read the full report: The state of the community service sector in New South Wales 2014


CSIRO has used solar energy to generate hot and pressurised 'supercritical' steam, at the highest temperatures ever achieved in the world outside of fossil fuel sources.

Supercritical steam is a breakthrough for solar energy and means that one day the sun could be used to drive the most advanced power stations in the world, currently only driven by coal or gas.

CSIRO's Energy Director, Dr Alex Wonhas said this milestone is a game-changer for the renewable energy industry.

"It's like breaking the sound barrier; this step change proves solar has the potential to compete with the peak performance capabilities of fossil fuel sources," Dr Wonhas said.

"Instead of relying on burning fossil fuels to produce supercritical steam, this breakthrough demonstrates that the power plants of the future could instead be using the free, zero emission energy of the sun to achieve the same result."

Supercritical solar steam is water pressurised at enormous force and heated using solar radiation. Around 90 per cent of Australia's electricity is generated using fossil fuel, but only a small number of power stations are based on the more advanced supercritical steam.

The world record, set in May this year, was at a pressure of 23.5 megapascals (a measure of force per unit area), and temperatures up to 570 degrees Celsius. It is the combination of pressure and temperature demonstrated at scale that makes this such a breakthrough for solar power.

Commercial solar thermal power plants around the world use subcritical steam, operating at similar temperatures but at lower pressure. If these plants were able to move to supercritical steam, it would increase the efficiency and help to lower the cost of solar electricity.

The $9.7 million research program is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and is part of a broader collaboration with Abengoa Solar, the largest supplier of solar thermal electricity in the world. CSIRO and Abengoa Solar, with support from ARENA, are developing advanced solar storage to provide solar electricity at any time, day or night.

The breakthrough was made at the CSIRO Energy Centre, Newcastle, home to Australia's low emission and renewable energy research. The Centre includes two solar thermal test plants featuring more than 600 mirrors (heliostats) directed at two towers housing solar receivers and turbines.

Although there is still work to be done before this technology is ready for commercialisation, ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht acknowledged the significant achievement saying it demonstrates the importance of research and development.

"This breakthrough brings solar thermal energy a step closer to cost competitiveness with fossil fuel generated power," Mr Frischknecht said.

 An Angklung Orchestra. Our Asian Neighbours - Indonesia By NFSA - Published on 4 Jun 2014

Made by Film Australia 1975. Directed by Brian Hannant. An angklung is a Javanese bamboo instrument which is rattled to produce a fixed note. Originally tuned to the pentatonic scale, it was used in traditional music. However, today it is usually tuned to the diatonic scale and Western style music is performed. In this program the Bandung Conservatoire Orchestra demonstrates the complexity of the instrument and plays a well-known waltz.

 New support for responsible gambling research      2 June 2014

The University of Sydney will embark upon one of the most comprehensive research programs around problem gambling and harm-minimisation measures everconducted in Australia.

The research, to be headed by world-leading problem gambling expert Professor Alex Blaszczynski, from the University's School of Psychology, will see the establishment of the new research on responsible gambling measures thanks to a deed of gift from ClubsNSW.

The donation from ClubsNSW, along with the Gaming Technologies Association and its members, will see $1.2 million in funding provided over three years.

Professor Alex Blaszczynski said, "The donation will provide the opportunity to carry out relevant research on people in actual venues engaged in their usual pattern of gambling behaviours."

"This represents a significant advance on current academic research that is often conducted in laboratory settings using university students completing simple decision-making tasks.

"The findings from this research will result in evidence-based strategies that will effectively minimise harms to players and their families. This donation reflects the growing trend internationally of industry actively supporting independent university research programs. Problem gamblers and those recreational gamblers at risk of becoming problem gamblers will be the ultimate beneficiaries."

As per the donation agreement, ClubsNSW will not be involved with the conduct or outcomes of the research program, and the University is able to publish the research regardless of the outcome.

An independent advisory board will also be established by the University to oversee the implementation of the research program.

The University of Sydney will also ensure the research program complies with the institution's policy on academic freedom.

ClubsNSW CEO Anthony Ball said the industry had long been committed to further reducing the rate of problem gambling and ensuring that successful and cost-effective harm-minimisation measures targeting problem gamblers were in place.

"Clubs have already invested in and implemented a number of groundbreaking measures to assist problem gamblers, including online multi-venue self-exclusion and providing pastoral care in conjunction with the Salvation Army," he said.

"However, this type of objective and comprehensive research is something that the club industry has wanted to see happen for some time.

"As a part of this research, clubs will also provide the University of Sydney researchers with access to club venues which will give academics the opportunity to study the effectiveness of harm-minimisation measures in a real-life environment."

"The club industry is committed to addressing this issue while still providing a great entertainment product for the vast majority of people without a gambling issue."

ClubsNSW is the peak industry body representing the state's not-for-profit club industry.

 Artificial intelligence annotates medical images     

4 June 2014

Students Ashnil Kumar and Shane Dyer annotate medical images

Biomedical research students at the University of Sydney have joined international efforts to improve the automatic interpretation of 3D anatomical images used by health practitioners.

The team has received international recognition for their unique algorithm that automatically analyses three-dimensional computed tomographic (3D CT) liver images. The team's work was awarded first place in the annual Cross Language Evaluation Forum image challenge. The detailed results will be presented at the Cross Language Evaluation Forum (CLEF) to be held in Sheffield in the United Kingdom.

ImageCLEF hosts a variety of challenges. This year the aim of their medical imaging challenge was to automatically annotate 3D CT images of the liver based on an analysis of the images says team member Dr Ashnil Kumar, a post-doctoral fellow in the University's School of Information Technologies.

"Medical imaging is now a fundamental aspect of healthcare delivery but the challenge facing clinicians is how best to extract or identify relevant information from these massive data sets," states Dr Kumar.

"Subtle differences in medical images are often critical in determining patient outcomes. Our work is part of a long-term worldwide goal to develop better clinical support technologies.

"Advances in imaging technology means that we now have bigger, better images, in 3D for example that can be used to detect these differences. The downside is the increased time and effort needed by expert radiologists to analyse them."

A major challenge is developing technologies to better support a radiologist's workflow. The ability to automatically analyse and annotate images, and then generate a structured report from the analysis and annotations has the potential to improve the efficiency of the radiologist's practice.

Ideally, this would have flow on effects in terms of patient throughput and faster communication between radiologists, oncologists, and patients.

Our aim for the future is to build smarter, more accurate systems that enable clinical staff to work more efficiently. This project is the first step in this in goal.

Electrical engineering student, Shane Dyer who was central to the team's efforts says:

"We know that analysis of 3D liver scans is a time consuming task for physicians, but our team knows we can create technology to overcome.

"We created a system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) techniques in order to automatically determine various properties of a liver for example number of lesions, size of the liver.

"Future work could include detecting when a property is abnormal, and the implementation of such a system could have the flow-on effect of reduced patient waiting times.

Essentially, our challenge was to create AI that could fill in a form similar to a radiologist's report. Examples of the annotation included liver and tumour properties such as shape, location, calcification, interaction with nearby vessels," says Shane.

The team were supported by senior academics including Associate Professor Philip Leong and Dr Jinman Kim from the Biomedical Engineering and Technology group.

Be Kind to Ants Week

 Keeping the cloud clean - 3 June 2014

Cloud computing is becoming the rule and not the exception

As cloud computing becomes the rule and not the exception University of Sydney cloud computing experts say tighter international regulations on managing computer hardware waste are needed.

With hundreds of data centres, thousands of server rooms and individual racks in Australia alone there is an urgent need for industry to fully address the environmental impact of cloud computing, says the University's Chair of High Performance Computing and Networking Professor Albert Zomaya.

Professor Zomaya's urging comes on the heels of world-leading IT advisory bodies Garnter and Forrestor nominating Hybrid and Cloud Computing as among the world's top ten strategic technology trends.

"The industry is like a rapidly growing teen," he says. "We are now in a perfect position to develop and implement international guidelines on how to find solutions to reduce and recycle massive amounts of computer waste."

The world's largest data campus is in Nevada, measuring 2.2million square feet, but China is building a larger, commercial computing centre based in Langfang. When completed in 2016, it will be nearly the same size as the Pentagon.

"Much of what is currently being used in data centres - server hardware for example will simply be stripped of its precious metals and then used as landfill in developing nations," says Professor Zomaya.

Professor Zomaya says there is a recognised need for regulation in this area. He urges those in the IT industry to comment on an Australian Department of Industry report recommending servers, storage and other data centre equipment sold in Australia and New Zealand be subject to an energy rating scheme similar to fridges and other household goods.

"In this highly connected world we need to be more conscious of the physical impact of cloud computing. Cloud computing centres or data centres can be as large as a football field requiring enormous amounts of power to both run and cool their hardware. They operate 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

"Many Cloud computing centres are under-utilised, often not working to full capacity."

Professor Zomaya says one way to reduce waste is to encourage small businesses to adopt a hybrid model of cloud computing: a combined use of both public and privately owned infrastructure.

"Combined usage of public and private infrastructure creates a win-win for both providers and clients. Providers increase their revenue and facility is used closer to capacity. While the clients are saving on the provision of their own hardware, personnel and power costs," he said.

Professor Albert Zomaya is this year's recipient of a prestigious IEEE Computer Society Technical Achievement Award and heads the University's Centre for Distributed and High Performance Computing (CDHPC). The Centre's mission is to establish a streamlined research, technology exploration and advanced training program.

The CDHPC is a leading centre that undertakes collaborative multi-disciplinary research in support of distributed and high performance computing. The CDHPC forms the basis for long-term partnerships and collaboration amongst industry, academia, and government. The centre activities are directly supported by the research needs of its partners in a cost-effective manner with pooled, leveraged resources and maximized synergy.

The centre enhances the educational experience for a diverse set of top-quality graduate and undergraduate students; and advances the knowledge and technologies in this emerging field and ensures commercial relevance of the research with rapid and effective technology transfer. The research activities in CDHPC consist of the following five themes - Algorithms and Data Mining, Cloud Computing and Green IT, Distributed Computing Applications, Internetworking, and Service Computing.

 One of my father's toys Published on 3 Jun 2014

From early 19th century Switzerland

 Security: Computer scientists develop tool to make the Internet of Things safer

June 2, 2014 – Computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego, have developed a tool that allows hardware designers and system builders to test security- a first for the field. One of the tool's potential uses is described in the May-June issue of IEEE Micro magazine. 

"The stakes in hardware security are high," said Ryan Kastner, a professor of computer science at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.

There is a big push to create the so-called Internet of Things, where all devices are connected and communicate with one another. As a result, embedded systems - small computer systems built around microcontrollers - are becoming more common. But they remain vulnerable to security breaches. Some examples of devices that may be hackable: medical devices, cars, cell phones and smart grid technology.

"Engineers traditionally design devices to be fast and use as little power as possible," said Jonathan Valamehr, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UC San Diego. "Oftentimes, they don't design them with security in mind."

The tool, based on the team's research on Gate-level Information Flow Tracking, or GLIFT, tags critical pieces in a hardware's security system and tracks them. The tool leverages this technology to detect security-specific properties within a hardware system. For example, the tool can make sure that a cryptographic key does not leak outside a chip's cryptographic core.

There are two main threats in hardware security. The first is confidentiality. In some types of hardware, one can determine a device's cryptographic key based on the amount of time it takes to encrypt information. The tool can detect these so-called timing channels that can compromise a device's security. The second threat is integrity, where a critical subsystem within a device can be affected by non-critical ones. For example, a car's brakes can be affected by its CD player. The tool can detect these integrity violations as well.

Valamehr, Kastner, and Ph.D. candidate Jason Oberg started a company named Tortuga Logic to commercialize this technology. The company is currently working with two of the top semiconductor companies in the world. Their next step is to focus on medical devices, computers in cars, and military applications.

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - San Diego

 Living Symphonies - Published on 3 Jun 2014

Living Symphonies is a sound installation which aims to portray a forest ecosystem in an ever changing soundscape - reflecting, in real time, the interactions of the natural world. In this film, Nature Video takes a peek under the hood of Living Symphonies, at the science which makes it possible; and asks how projects like these could influence the way that both the public and scientists see with the world around them.

Find out more about the project:

Read a Q&A with sound artist Daniel Jones: here

 Astronomers find a new type of planet: The 'mega-Earth'

June 2, 2014 - Astronomers have discovered a new type of planet - a rocky world weighing 17 times as much as Earth. Theorists believed such a world couldn't form because anything so hefty would grab hydrogen gas as it grew and become a Jupiter-like gas giant. This planet, though, is all solids and much bigger than previously discovered 'super-Earths,' making it a 'mega-Earth.' "We were very surprised when we realized what we had found," says astronomer Xavier Dumusque of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), who led the data analysis and made the discovery.

"This is the Godzilla of Earths!" adds CfA researcher Dimitar Sasselov, director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative. "But unlike the movie monster, Kepler-10c has positive implications for life."

The team's finding was presented today in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

The newfound mega-Earth, Kepler-10c, circles a sunlike star once every 45 days. It is located about 560 light-years from Earth in the constellation Draco. The system also hosts a 3-Earth-mass "lava world," Kepler-10b, in a remarkably fast, 20-hour orbit.

Kepler-10c was originally spotted by NASA's Kepler spacecraft. Kepler finds planets using the transit method, looking for a star that dims when a planet passes in front of it. By measuring the amount of dimming, astronomers can calculate the planet's physical size or diameter. However, Kepler can't tell whether a planet is rocky or gassy.

Kepler-10c was known to have a diameter of about 18,000 miles, 2.3 times as large as Earth. This suggested it fell into a category of planets known as mini-Neptunes, which have thick, gaseous envelopes.

The team used the HARPS-North instrument on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo (TNG) in the Canary Islands to measure the mass of Kepler-10c. They found that it weighed 17 times as much as Earth - far more than expected. This showed that Kepler-10c must have a dense composition of rocks and other solids.

"Kepler-10c didn't lose its atmosphere over time. It's massive enough to have held onto one if it ever had it," explains Dumusque. "It must have formed the way we see it now."

Planet formation theories have a difficult time explaining how such a large, rocky world could develop. However, a new observational study suggests that it is not alone.

Also presenting at AAS, CfA astronomer Lars A. Buchhave found a correlation between the period of a planet (how long it takes to orbit its star) and the size at which a planet transitions from rocky to gaseous. This suggests that more mega-Earths will be found as planet hunters extend their data to longer-period orbits.

The discovery that Kepler-10c is a mega-Earth also has profound implications for the history of the universe and the possibility of life. The Kepler-10 system is about 11 billion years old, which means it formed less than 3 billion years after the Big Bang.

The early universe contained only hydrogen and helium. Heavier elements needed to make rocky planets, like silicon and iron, had to be created in the first generations of stars. When those stars exploded, they scattered these crucial ingredients through space, which then could be incorporated into later generations of stars and planets.

This process should have taken billions of years. However, Kepler-10c shows that the universe was able to form such huge rocks even during the time when heavy elements were scarce.

"Finding Kepler-10c tells us that rocky planets could form much earlier than we thought. And if you can make rocks, you can make life," says Sasselov.

This research implies that astronomers shouldn't rule out old stars when they search for Earth-like planets. And if old stars can host rocky Earths too, then we have a better chance of locating potentially habitable worlds in our cosmic neighborhood.

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Picture; The newly discovered 'mega-Earth' Kepler-10c dominates the foreground in this artist's conception. Its sibling, the lava world Kepler-10b, is in the background. Both orbit a sunlike star. Kepler-10c has a diameter of about 18,000 miles, 2.3 times as large as Earth, and weighs 17 times as much. Therefore it is all solids, although it may possess a thin atmosphere shown here as wispy clouds. Image Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

Turtle Snorkel Grab 

 Charles Perkins Centre takes off in the fight against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease - 5 June 2014

In one of the most ambitious projects of its 164-year history, the University of Sydney has officially launched its Charles Perkins Centre, aimed at easing the burden of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and related conditions.

The Charles Perkins Centre spans the University's geographic locations and brings together researchers, clinicians and students from all 16 of the University of Sydney's faculties to find solutions to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and related conditions. Collectively, these are among the most pressing health issues ever to face humanity.

The new $385 million Charles Perkins Centre research and education hub- a major research, education and clinical facility - sits at the heart of the centre.

Along with finding real-world, big-picture solutions to these issues, the multidisciplinary structure of the centre has the potential to revolutionise the way research and teaching is conducted, both in Australia and internationally.

"We are immensely excited to launch the Charles Perkins Centre research and education hub, which will play home to an initiative that is already changing the way we think about some of the most destructive health issues in the world," said Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney.

"The Charles Perkins Centre represents a completely new way of conducting research. The breadth and depth of multidisciplinary research conducted by the centre is unparalleled both in Australia and internationally."

The centre looks for integrated solutions across disciplines and at their junctions - clinicians, nutritionists and health scientists work with philosophers, marketers, agriculturalists, architects, economists and many others.

Together with many of the University's best minds, outstanding researchers recruited as chairs in the centre from across Australia and internationally are working to develop research and education programs that do not just add incrementally to the knowledge base, but generate major shifts in our understanding.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no simple, single solution for the crisis posed by our skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and related conditions," said Professor Stephen Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre.

"Along with world-leading nutrition research, the Charles Perkins Centre looks beyond what we eat to find big-picture solutions to the obesity crisis. We now live in a foodscape barely recognisable to our ancestors, and the world we have created for ourselves is out of step with our biology and our health. Agriculture, economics, the built environment and our work structure, along with many other factors, play a significant role in the state of our health.

"The Charles Perkins Centre's unique combination of a complex systems approach, the integration of multiple academic disciplines, and the scale, breadth and depth of research we conduct represents a new model for understanding and overcoming obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and related conditions.

"However, we need to move fast. If we don't change the course of our nation, a shuddering 80 per cent of all Australians will be obese or overweight in a decade, while diabetes is set to become the major cause of morbidity and mortality in Australia by 2016."

The Charles Perkins Centre is named after a distinguished alumnus of the University, Charles Perkins. The first Aboriginal man to graduate from university in Australia, Charles Perkins was a visionary Australian who challenged societal attitudes and worked across boundaries to create opportunities and find novel solutions.

He showed that new ways, partnerships and ideas could change the way Australians think and act. He sought to lead collaborations in situations where a single person or agency could not deliver. In the same way, the Charles Perkins Centre looks beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries to improve the health of individuals, communities and the nation.

The Charles Perkins Centre would not be possible without the generous support of its donors. The unique research and teaching opportunities created by the centre have inspired many far-sighted philanthropists to make significant contributions towards its work and INSPIRED - the Campaign to Support the University of Sydney. So far, $58 million has been raised for numerous important projects, positions and opportunities at the Charles Perkins Centre.

The Charles Perkins Centre Research and Education Hub project was supported by a $95m award from the Commonwealth Education Infrastructure Fund (round 1).

About the Charles Perkins Centre Research and Education Hub:

The $385 million Charles Perkins Centre Research and Education Hub is a state-of-the-art, 49,500 square metre research, education and clinical facility on the University of Sydney's Camperdown Campus.

The Research and Education Hub is purpose-built to foster collaboration, with largely open-plan offices, shared lab facilities with dedicated technicians, shared informal spaces, and numerous small meeting rooms for impromptu discussions.

The building will accommodate 900 researchers, who are being moved into the Hub throughout 2014.

The Research and Education Hub also features the world's most advanced teaching laboratory, the X-Lab, where each student is equipped with their own touch screen computer, which can stream microscope, face camera and computer content. Teaching commenced in Semester One, with 1,500 students in 84 course units taking classes in wet and dry teaching spaces, as well as working in independent and collaborative study areas.

An advanced clinical research facility, which will be operated in conjunction with the Sydney Local Health District, will be used to treat patients, test new models of clinical care, and conduct research trials, with a metabolic kitchen, overnight stay rooms, gym equipment, and associated clinical facilities.

Beyond the University's campuses, the facility will be a hub for academic and community engagement stretching across metropolitan Sydney and all the way to Broken Hill.

The Charles Perkins Centre Research and Education Hub was designed by Richard Francis-Jones (Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp architects) and was delivered by Brookfield Multiplex, significantly ahead of schedule and under budget.

       Prostate cancer testing is on trial           3 June 2014

The University of Sydney's School of Public Health is seeking people to participate in a "community jury" to independently asses the process of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) testing in Australia.

The PSA test is often used to test healthy men to see whether they have prostate cancer. However, experts disagree about whether, when and how the PSA test should be used for this purpose.

Chief investigator of the study, Associate Professor Stacy Carter, said this study is important because although many men are concerned about prostate cancer, the messages they receive can be confusing.

"Our research team is calling out for participants to be part of a community jury to consider how men and their GPs should approach PSA testing," she said.

"We will present the current evidence and then ask people to consider, debate and decide the best way to manage PSA testing for prostate cancer in otherwise healthy men.

"Those arguing for the PSA test say it can save men's lives and may prevent problems from development of primary and secondary tumours. Those arguing against it say it leads to many men being unnecessarily harmed.

"Because of this genuine disagreement over the merits of the PSA, men and their GPs are in a difficult position when trying to decide what to do."

The PSA test measures the blood level of PSA, a protein that is produced by the prostate gland. Although a higher PSA level may indicate a higher risk of prostate cancer, there are other, non-cancer related reasons for having an elevated PSA level. And some men who have prostate cancer do not have elevated PSA.

"Prostate cancer is a fatal disease for a minority of men and the PSA test is intended to identify the cancer early so that it can be treated and prevent life-threatening disease," Associate Professor Carter said.

"But there is a disagreement about whether screening is beneficial as many men can have prostate cancer diagnosed but not experience physical symptoms or difficulties. This means detecting prostate cancer early will not necessarily reduce the chance of dying from prostate cancer.

"The concern about the PSA is that the test can provide false positive results, as well as false negative results. It can also lead to over-diagnosis (detecting tumours that aren't life threatening) and over-treatment (treating tumours that aren't life threatening).

"Overtreatment exposes men unnecessarily to the potential complications and harmful side effects of treatments for early prostate cancer, including surgery and radiation therapy. The side effects of these treatments can include urinary incontinence, problems with bowel function, and erectile dysfunction.

"This project aims to answer what the moral obligations of GPs are in respect to PSA testing, and what should constitute informed consent to perform a PSA test.

"We are recruiting participants for a series of community juries to consider this problem. A community jury is like a jury in a court room. Expert witnesses present evidence and information, and then the jury debates and comes to a conclusion.

"We are keen to involve all sorts of people of voting age: older and younger, men and women.

"We will be running four separate juries, in July, August and October at the University of Sydney in Camperdown. Research has shown that people who participate in a community jury find it a highly rewarding experience," Associate Professor Carter said.

This project is part of a larger study examining the role of values, ethics, and evidence in cancer screening policy and practice. It is a collaborative initiative involving academics from the University of Sydney's School of Public Health, Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Notre Dame's School of Medicine, Cancer Council Australia, and the SAX Institute.

To find out more about the community juries please call 02 9036 3427 or email or visit

 Elixir of Youth? - Published on 2 Jun 2014

A team of scientists from UNSW and Harvard are working towards what could be a prescription for a longer, healthier life. Professor David Sinclair and Dr Lindsay Wu take us through the science that could see us living past 100 years old in a healthy state. Professor Sinclair has been honoured as one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world: HERE

Health papers published this week:

Study uncovers Aboriginal respiratory health problems

Research by students and academics in the School of Medicine at the University of Western Sydney has found Indigenous children from Mount Isa in Queensland are more than five times as likely to be admitted to hospital for certain chest infections than non-Indigenous children.

The study  published in the Medical Journal of Australia , looked at children under the age of 15 years who were admitted to Mount Isa Base Hospital for conditions such as pneumonia and bronchial infections between 2007 and 2011.

The findings show the annual admission rates for Indigenous children with infections were similar to those reported for the Northern Territory, where rates of pneumonia in children under a year old are among the highest in the world.

“Our study provides evidence that acute lower respiratory infection (ALRI) is a major, increasing health burden in north-west Queensland, especially among Indigenous children,” say the report authors.

“The rates for ALRI are increasing annually in north-west Queensland, whereas they appear to be stable in Alice Springs and to be decreasing in Western Australia.”

The report found:

•    Average annual hospitalisation rates by age group were five to eight times higher for Indigenous children than non-Indigenous children, with an overall rate of 24.1 per 1000

•    Multiple admissions were common, with one child admitted 8 times, one 7 times and three children admitted 6 times

•    Hospitalisation rates were highest for children under a year old, and decreased as they grew older

The report authors say it’s not yet certain why Indigenous children are predisposed to these infections.

“Possibilities include prematurity and intrauterine growth restriction, under-nutrition, poor hygiene and exposure to cigarette smoke,” they say.

The study says more attention needs to be paid to the region.

“Given the rise of ALRI in north-west Queensland, the Indigenous health gap is widening despite national aspirations to close it,” say the report authors.

Antipsychotic medication during pregnancy does affect babies, study shows

June 2, 2014 - A seven-year study of women who take antipsychotic medication while pregnant, proves it can affect babies. The observational study reveals that while most women gave birth to healthy babies, the use of mood stabilizers or higher doses of antipsychotics during pregnancy increased the need for special care after birth with 43 per cent of babies placed in a Special Care Nursery or a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, almost three times the national rate in Australia. As well as an increased likelihood of the need for intensive care, the world-first study by experts from the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre (MAPrc) and Monash University, shows antipsychotic drugs affects babies in other ways; 18 per cent were born prematurely, 37 per cent showed signs of respiratory distress and 15 per cent developed withdrawal symptoms.

Principal investigator, Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, Director of MAPrc, said the study highlights the need for clearer health guidelines when antipsychotic drugs are taken during pregnancy.

"There's been little research on antipsychotic medication during pregnancy and if it affects babies. The lack of data has made it very difficult for clinicians to say anything conclusively on how safe it is for babies," Professor Kulkarni said.

"This new research confirms that most babies are born healthy, but many experience neonatal problems such as respiratory distress."

With no existing data to draw on, MAPrc established the world-first National Register of Antipsychotic Medications in Pregnancy (NRAMP) in 2005. Women who were pregnant and taking antipsychotic medication were recruited from around Australia through clinical networks in each state and territory. In all 147 women were interviewed every six weeks during pregnancy and then followed until their babies were one year old.

Antipsychotic drugs are currently used to treat a range of psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder. About 20 per cent of Australian women experience depression in their lifetime, compared to 10 per cent of men. In Australia 25 per cent of women experience postnatal depression and 20 per cent experience severe menopausal depression.

Women have much higher rates of anxiety disorders and there are equal percentages of men and women with schizophrenia (2 per cent) and bipolar disorder (about 3 per cent).

Professor Kulkarni said the emergence of new antipsychotic drugs means that many women with a well controlled psychiatric disorder are able to contemplate having babies, but there have always been concerns about the effect of treatment on their offspring.

"The potentially harmful effects of taking an antipsychotic drug in pregnancy have to be balanced against the harm of untreated psychotic illness. The good news is we now know there are no clear associations with specific congenital abnormalities and these drugs," Professor Kulkarni said.

"However clinicians should be particularly mindful of neonatal problems such as respiratory distress, so it's critical that Neonatal Intensive Care Units, or Special Care Nurseries are available for these babies."

Jayashri Kulkarni, Roisin Worsley, Heather Gilbert, Emorfia Gavrilidis, Tamsyn E. Van Rheenen, Wei Wang, Kay McCauley, Paul Fitzgerald. A Prospective Cohort Study of Antipsychotic Medications in Pregnancy: The First 147 Pregnancies and 100 One Year Old Babies. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (5): e94788 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0094788

Do your stomach bacteria protect you from obesity?

June 2, 2014 – The germ Helicobacter pylori is the cause of most stomach ulcers, but new research in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics suggests that treating the bacteria is linked to weight gain. It is estimated that 50% of the global population may be infected with H. pylori; however, only 20% of infected people experience symptoms. New evidence suggests that patients treated for the infection developed significant weight gain compared to subjects with untreated H. pylori colonization.

By reviewing data taken from forty-nine studies with data from ten European countries, Japan, the U.S. and Australia, Professor Gerald Holtmann identified a correlation between prevalence rates for H. pylori and obesity.

"The rate of obesity and overweight were inversely and significantly correlated with the prevalence of H. pylori infection," said Professor Holtmann. "The gradual decrease of the H. pylori colonisation observed in recent decades could be causally related to the obesity endemic observed in the Western world."

N. Lender, N. J. Talley, P. Enck, S. Haag, S. Zipfel, M. Morrison, G. J. Holtmann.Review article: associations between Helicobacter pyloriand obesity - an ecological study. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 2014; DOI:10.1111/apt.12790

Long-term results encouraging for combination immunotherapy for advanced melanoma

Jun 2nd, 2014 - The first long-term follow-up results from a phase 1b immunotherapy trial combining drugs for advanced melanoma patients has shown encouraging results - long-lasting with high survival rates - researchers report. First author Mario Sznol, M.D., professor of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Center, is presenting the updated data at the 2014 annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago. Sznol, clinical research leader of the melanoma research program at Yale Cancer Center, was the senior author on the original study of combination immunotherapy that was first published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at ASCO in 2013. Jedd Wolchok, M.D., of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center was first author of the earlier study, and senior author of this updated research.

The trial evaluated the safety and activity of the combination regimen of nivolumab (anti-PD-1), an investigational PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor, and ipilimumab (anti-CTLA-4; Yervoy), given either concurrently or sequentially, to patients with advanced melanoma whose disease progressed after prior treatment. The one-year overall survival rate was 94% and the two-year rate was 88%.

"The treatment of advanced melanoma has changed dramatically in the last few years, but there continues to be a need to increase the number of patients who experience a long-term survival benefit," Sznol said. "While these are phase 1b data, the duration of response and one- and two-year survival rates observed with the combination regimen of nivolumab and Yervoy are very encouraging and support the rationale for the ongoing, late-stage trials of this combination regimen."

CTLA-4 and PD-1 are targets for cancer immunotherapy because they are shut down the immune system's ability to respond to attack tumors. Antibodies blocking CTLA-4 and PD-1 enable a strong immune response against cancer by removing the brakes from the immune system. Nivolumab targets the PD-1 receptor on the surface of T-cells, and ipilimumab targets CTLA-4 receptors. Both are manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb, which sponsored the study with Ono Pharmaceutical Company, Ltd.

The above story is based on materials provided by Yale University.

Striking Results of Investigative Immunotherapies for Melanoma and Cervical Cancer Highlighted - June 2, 2014

CHICAGO – New research on innovative immunotherapies for advanced or high-risk melanoma and cervical cancer were presented today at the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).  These treatments – used alone or in combination – fight cancer by activating and amplifying the body’s immune response to the disease. 

The new studies find high activity with investigative drugs for advanced melanoma, and show for the first time that ipilimumab, a treatment already approved for advanced melanoma, can substantially decrease the risk of melanoma recurrence in certain patients with earlier-stage disease.  In addition, another small trial reports that a one-time, personalized immunotherapy treatment induces complete and long-lasting remissions in a small number of women with advanced cervical cancer – a disease with little to no effective treatment options.

"The field of immunotherapy has exploded in the last decade, and more and more patients are benefiting,” said press briefing moderator Steven O'Day, MD, ASCO expert and clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine. “Having a potential new way to keep melanoma at bay is a major advance for patients who live under the constant fear of recurrence after surgery. It’s also incredibly exciting that we’re extending the benefits of immunotherapy beyond melanoma, to diseases like cervical cancer where patients urgently need better options.”

Featured studies include:

 Adjuvant ipilimumab improves recurrence-free survival in patients with high-risk stage III melanoma: Study marks the first time adjuvant (post-surgery) ipilimumab is shown to be effective in earlier-stage melanoma, though side effects are considerable. 

PD-1 targeting immunotherapy MK-3475 has high and long-lasting activity against metastatic melanoma: Large phase I trial finds high survival rates in patients with advanced melanoma, including those previously treated with ipilimumab; one-year survival rate is 69 percent across all patient subgroups.

Combination immunotherapy with ipilimumab and nivolumab achieves long-term survival for patients with advanced melanoma: Updated follow-up data from an expanded phase I study show concurrent treatment with ipilimumab and the anti-PD-1 nivolumab yields strong, long-lasting responses and high survival rates.

HPV-targeted adoptive T cell therapy may provide a new personalized strategy for advanced cervical cancer: Early study of HPV-targeted immunotherapy shows promising activity in metastatic cervical cancer, a hard-to-treat disease with few effective treatment options.

From American Society for Clinical Oncology

Prenatal maternal stress predicts asthma and autism traits in 6 1/2-year-old children

June 2, 2014 - A new study finds a link between prenatal maternal stress and the development of symptoms of asthma and autism in children. Scientists have been studying women who were pregnant during the January 1998 Quebec ice storm since June of that year and observing effects of their stress on their children's development (Project Ice Storm). The team examined the degree to which the mothers' objective degree of hardship from the storm and their subjective degree of distress explained differences among the women's children in asthma-like symptoms and in autism-like traits. A team of scientists from The Douglas Mental Health University Institute and from McGill University has been studying women who were pregnant during the January 1998 Quebec ice storm since June of that year and observing effects of their stress on their children's development (Project Ice Storm). The team examined the degree to which the mothers' objective degree of hardship from the storm and their subjective degree of distress explained differences among the women's children in asthma-like symptoms and in autism-like traits.

Results reported in the journal Psychiatry Researchshow that the greater the mothers' objective hardship from the ice storm (such as more days without electricity), and the greater the mothers' distress about the ice storm 5 months later, the more severe their children's autistic-like traits at 6½ years of age.

The team emphasizes that the children in Project Ice Storm are not autistic; the results describe normal variations among children.

These traits include difficulty making friends, being clumsy, speaking in odd ways, etc. The effect of the mothers' ice storm stress was especially strong when the ice storm happened in the first trimester of pregnancy. Interestingly, the children with the most severe symptoms had mothers who had had high levels of hardship from the ice storm but low levels of distress.

"We have found effects of the mothers' objective hardship from the ice storm (such as the number of days without electricity), or their degree of distress from the storm, on every aspect of child development that we have studied, said Suzanne King, PhD, the senior author of the paper. This is surprising, since the children in our study are mostly from upper class families and are generally doing extremely well in school and in life."

In May, the team reported in the journal Biomedical Research International that girls whose mothers had had high levels of distress after the ice storm were more likely to have experienced wheezing, to have been diagnosed with asthma by a doctor, and to have been prescribed asthma medication before the age of 12. There was no effect in boys, and there was no effect of the mothers' objective hardship.

These results demonstrate the power of a stressor in pregnancy to influence both the physical development and the mental health of the unborn child. Project Ice Storm continues to follow the children's development, including brain MRI scans at the age of 16 years starting in September.

"If the stress of the ice storm could have such large effects on these children, helping to explain why some are sicker than others or have more atypical development than others, added Suzanne King, how much greater would the effects be with an even more stressful event in pregnancy or in disadvantaged families with fewer resources? Our research is showing us how vulnerable the unborn child is to his mother's environment and her mood."

About Project Ice Storm

When the ice storms of January 1998 plunged more than 3 million Quebecers into darkness for as long as 45 days, the team seized the opportunity to study the effects of stress on pregnant women, their pregnancies, and their unborn children. It has been following a group of about 150 families, in which the mother was pregnant during the ice storm or became pregnant shortly thereafter, in order to observe the immediate effects of different levels and types of stress on the unborn children. It continues to follow these children who are now teenagers.

Among the team of scientists who conducted this study are Suzanne King, and Alain Brunet, from the Psychosocial Research Division of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and from the Department of Psychiatry, (Faculty of Medicine) at McGill University, as well as David P Laplante also from the Douglas Institute. The results of this work have been published in the journals Biomedical Research International (asthma, May 8) and Psychiatry Research (autism, June). Project Ice Storm is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Deborah J. Walder, David P. Laplante, Alexandra Sousa-Pires, Franz Veru, Alain Brunet, Suzanne King. Prenatal maternal stress predicts autism traits in 6½ year-old children: Project Ice Storm. Psychiatry Research, 2014; DOI:10.1016/j.psychres.2014.04.034

Increase in number of total knee replacement surgeries, especially in younger adults, linked to obesity

June 4, 2014 - The number of total knee replacement (TKR) surgeries more than tripled between 1993 and 2009, while the number of total hip replacements (THR) doubled during the same time period. A study appearing in the June Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (JBJS) found that an increase in the prevalence of ovrweight and obesity in the U.S. accounted for 95 percent of the higher demand for knee replacements, with younger patients affected to a greater degree.

"We observed that growth of knee replacement volumes was far outpacing that of hip replacements and were curious as to the origins of this trend," said lead study author Peter B. Derman, MD, MBA, an orthopaedic surgery resident at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, N.Y.

Previous studies have found a strong link between a higher body mass index (BMI) and knee osteoarthritis. The effects of weight on hip osteoarthritis were less clear. In this study, researchers reviewed at least 10 years of national data (through 2009) on TKR and THR volume, length of hospital stay, in-hospital mortality, and orthopaedic workforce trends.

Among the study findings:

TKR volume has far outpaced that of THR for patients with a body mass index (BMI) of ≥25 kg/m² (persons with a BMI of ≥25 kg/m² and <30 kg/m² are considered overweight; patients with a BMI of ≥30 kg/m², obese), but not for patients with a BMI of <25 kg/m²

In 1993, surgeons performed 1.16 TKRs for every THR, but this ratio grew to 1.60 by 2009.

Patients ages 18 to 64 experienced a more rapid rise in overweight and obesity, compared to patients over age 65.

From 1997 to 2009, the share of patients ages 18 to 64 undergoing TKR rose 56 percent, compared with only 35 percent for THR.

Surgeon per-case reimbursement for TKR fell from approximately $3,000 in 1995 to $1,560 in 2009, and surgeon fees for THR from $2,840 to $1,460. As the data represents an approximate 48 percent drop in fees for both procedures, surgeons do not appear to be performing more TKRs over THRs because of higher reimbursement.

Hospital reimbursement, length of hospital stay and in-hospital mortality pertaining to TKR and THR also comparably declined between 1995 and 2009.

"We found that this differential growth rate in total knee replacement procedures could not be attributed to changes in physician or hospital payments, length of hospital stays, in-hospital death rates, or surgical work force characteristics," said Dr. Derman. "Because excess body weight appears to be more damaging to the knee than to the hip, the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity may explain the growing demand for knee replacements over hip replacements.

"If rates of overweight and obesity continue to climb, we should expect further acceleration in the number of knee replacements performed annually in the U.S. with a more modest increase in hip replacement volumes," said Dr. Derman. "This knowledge can inform future policy decisions regarding health care funding and surgical workforce training as well as guide allocation of preventative health resources."

P. B. Derman, P. D. Fabricant, G. David. The Role of Overweight and Obesity in Relation to the More Rapid Growth of Total Knee Arthroplasty Volume Compared with Total Hip Arthroplasty Volume. The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, 2014; 96 (11): 922 DOI: 10.2106/JBJS.L.01731

Discovery of compound may open new road to diabetes treatment

June 4, 2014 - The discovery of an inhibitor of the Insulin Degrading Enzyme (IDE), a protein responsible for the susceptibility of diabetes because it destroys insulin in the body, may lead to new treatment approaches for diabetes, researchers say. In collaboration with the discoverers of the inhibitor, David Liu and Alan Saghatelian, Stony Brook Medicine scientist Markus Seeliger, PhD, and colleagues nationally, demonstrated the efficacy of the compound in a research paper in the early online edition of Nature.

IDE removes insulin from the blood. To date, diabetes treatment strategies are based on patients either injecting insulin, taking medicine to make their body more sensitive to insulin, or taking other drugs to stimulate insulin secretion. In the paper, "Anti-diabetic action of insulin-degrading enzyme inhibitors mediated by multiple hormones," the authors reveal results that point to a potential new approach - regulating the degradation of insulin in the blood.

"A strategy to protect the remaining amounts of insulin produced by diabetics in response to blood sugar levels is an attractive treatment alternative, particularly in the early stages of type II diabetes," said Dr. Seeliger, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacological Sciences at Stony Brook University School of Medicine. "The research results gives proof of concept that targeting this protein is extremely promising. The inhibitor we discovered successfully relieved the symptoms of type II diabetes in obese mice and not only elevated their insulin levels but promoted healthy insulin signaling within the blood."

Using a robotic structural biology facility at Stony Brook and resources at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Dr. Seeliger and Zach Foda, an MD/PhD candidate and student in Dr. Seeliger's laboratory, determined the three-dimensional structure of the inhibitor compound and how it is bound to the IDE. The research team used this 3-D structure to help further evaluate the compound's properties and characteristics.

Dr. Seeliger said that the research findings are important initial steps to developing a drug that diabetics can use to regulate the depletion of insulin in their blood. A realistic initial treatment approach, he added, may be to use the compound to help the body retain insulin levels and thus delay the use of insulin for type II diabetes.

Juan Pablo Maianti, Amanda McFedries, Zachariah H. Foda, Ralph E. Kleiner, Xiu Quan Du, Malcolm A. Leissring, Wei-Jen Tang, Maureen J. Charron, Markus A. Seeliger, Alan Saghatelian, David R. Liu. Anti-diabetic activity of insulin-degrading enzyme inhibitors mediated by multiple hormones. Nature, 2014; DOI:10.1038/nature13297

Decoding how the brain miswires, possibly causing ADHD

June 4, 2014 - Neuroscientists at Mayo Clinic in Florida and at Aarhus University in Denmark have shed light on why neurons in the brain's reward system can be miswired, potentially contributing to disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They say findings from their study, published online today in Neuron, may increase the understanding of underlying causes of ADHD, potentially facilitating the development of more individualized treatment strategies.

The scientists looked at dopaminergic neurons, which regulate pleasure, motivation, reward, and cognition, and have been implicated in development of ADHD.

They uncovered a receptor system that is critical, during embryonic development, for correct wiring of the dopaminergic brain area. But they also discovered that after brain maturation, a cut in the same receptor, SorCS2, produces a two-chain receptor that induces cell death following damage to the peripheral nervous system.

The researchers report that the SorCS2 receptor functions as a molecular switch between apparently opposing effects in proBDNF. ProBDNF is a neuronal growth factor that helps select cells that are most beneficial to the nervous system, while eliminating those that are less favorable in order to create a finely tuned neuronal network.

They found that some cells in mice deficient in SorCS2 are unresponsive to proBDNF and have dysfunctional contacts between dopaminergic neurons.

"This miswiring of dopaminergic neurons in mice results in hyperactivity and attention deficits," says the study's senior investigator, Anders Nykjaer, M.D., Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Mayo Clinic in Florida and at Aarhus University in Denmark.

"A number of studies have reported that ADHD patients commonly exhibit miswiring in this brain area, accompanied by altered dopaminergic function. We may now have an explanation as to why ADHD risk genes have been linked to regulation of neuronal growth," he says.

"SorCS2 is produced as a single-chain protein - one long row of amino acids - but it can be cut into two chains to perform a different function. While the single-chain receptor is essential to tell the neuron that it is time to stop growing, the two-chain form tells cells that support neurons in the developing peripheral nervous system to die when they should," says Dr. Nykjaer.

Unfortunately, if damage occurs to a nerve in the peripheral nervous system, these cells that wrap around and nourish the neurons will die, preventing efficient regeneration, he says. "Our finding suggests that it may be possible to develop drug therapy to prevent this deadly cut of SorCS2 and treat acute nerve injury," Dr. Nykjaer says.

Simon Glerup, Ditte Olsen, Christian B. Vaegter, Camilla Gustafsen, Susanne S. Sjoegaard, Guido Hermey, Mads Kjolby, Simon Molgaard, Maj Ulrichsen, Simon Boggild, Sune Skeldal, Anja N. Fjorback, Jens R. Nyengaard, Jan Jacobsen, Dirk Bender, Carsten R. Bjarkam, Esben S. Sørensen, Ernst-Martin Füchtbauer, Gregor Eichele, Peder Madsen, Thomas E. Willnow, Claus M. Petersen, Anders Nykjaer.SorCS2 Regulates Dopaminergic Wiring and Is Processed into an Apoptotic Two-Chain Receptor in Peripheral Glia. Neuron, 2014; 82 (5): 1074 DOI:10.1016/j.neuron.2014.04.022

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.