Inbox and Environment News - Issue 169 

 June 29 - July 5, 2014: Issue 169

Australia: Victoria's volcano count rises

June 26, 2014 –  Geologists have discovered three previously unrecorded volcanoes in volcanically active southeast Australia. The new Monash University research, published in the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, gives a detailed picture of an area of volcanic centres already known to geologists in the region.

Covering an area of 19,000 square kilometres in Victoria and South Australia, with over 400 volcanoes, the Newer Volcanics Province (NVP) features the youngest volcanoes in Australia including Mount Schank and Mount Gambier.

Focusing on the Hamilton region, lead researcher Miss Julie Boyce from the School of Geosciences said the surprising discovery means additional volcanic centres may yet be discovered in the NVP.

"Victoria's latest episode of volcanism began about eight million years ago, and has helped to shape the landscape. The volcanic deposits, including basalt, are among the youngest rocks in Victoria but most people know little about them,” Miss Boyce said.

"Though it's been more than 5000 years since the last volcanic eruption in Australia, it's important that we understand where, when and how these volcanoes erupted. The province is still active, so there may be future eruptions."

The largest unrecorded volcano is a substantial maar-cone volcanic complex -- a broad, low relief volcanic crater caused by an explosion when groundwater comes into contact with hot magma -- identified 37 kilometres east of Hamilton.

Miss Boyce said the discoveries were made possible only by analysing a combination of satellite photographs, detailed NASA models of the topography of the area and the distribution of magnetic minerals in the rocks, alongside site visits to build a detailed picture of the Hamilton region of the NVP.

"Traditionally, volcanic sites are analysed by one or two of these techniques. This is the first time that this multifaceted approach has been applied to the NVP and potentially it could be used to study other volcanic provinces worldwide."

The NVP is considered active, as carbon dioxide is released from Earth's mantle in several areas, where there is a large heat anomaly at depth. With an eruption frequency of one volcano every 10,800 years or less, future eruptions may yet occur.

It's hoped that this multifaceted approach will lead to a better understanding of the distribution and nature of volcanism, allowing for more accurate hazard analysis and risk estimates for future eruptions.

J. A. Boyce, R. R. Keays, I. A. Nicholls, P. Hayman. Eruption centres of the Hamilton area of the Newer Volcanics Province, Victoria, Australia: pinpointing volcanoes from a multifaceted approach to landform mapping.Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1080/08120099.2014.92350

 YEARS – what tree rings sound like!

from Bartholomäus Traubeck . A record player that plays slices of wood. Modified record player, wood, sleeves. 2011

Thanks to: Pro-ject Audio, Karla Spiluttini, Ivo Francx, Rohol

Years is out as MP3. Download the digital

To register for the upcoming vinyl release (August 2014), please send an email to

Have you ever wondered what it would sound like to take a slice of a tree, lay it on a record player to see what it sounds like?  Well maybe not, but this man tried it.... Artist Bartholomäus Traubeck has custom-built a record player that is able to "play" cross-sectional slices of tree trunks. The result is his artpiece "Years," an audio recording of tree rings being read by a computer and turned into music, much like a record player's needle reads the grooves on an LP. The tree rings are actually being translated into the language of music, rather than sounding musical in and of themselves. According to Makezine, the custom record player takes in data using a PlayStation Eye Camera and a stepper motor attached to its control arm, and relays the data to a computer. A program called Ableton Live then uses this to generate an eerie piano track. Although the record player "interprets" rather than actually "playing" the tree trunk, as Gizmodo notes, the song still varies with each new piece of wood placed on the turntable. Wonderful stuff!

 New WIRES  Wildlife Rescue App

This morning we launched our new WIRES Wildlife Rescue App!

Download the free Rescue App to your smart phone or tablet to get access to wildlife advice and rescue assistance from the WIRES Rescue Team 7 days a week. You can find download details at

You can report rescues of sick, injured or orphaned wildlife directly from the app and have instant access to the most commonly needed information to help native animals in distress.

Visit the Apple store or Google Play store to download our the WIRES Wildlife Rescue App now. More information and links at

 Supercritical solar steam -  Published on 25 Jun 2014

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

 Protection for your spectacular World Heritage forests in Tasmania has been secured!

Early this morning (June 24th, 2014), a unanimous decision by the World Heritage Committee in Doha rejected the Australian Government’s application to de-list Tasmania's beautiful forests. In fact, it took them less than seven minutes to dismiss the Abbott Government’s proposal.

Along with securing the protection of giant trees, critical habitat for endangered animals, ancient Aboriginal heritage and special geological formations, the Committee's decision is also a strong rebuff to the Abbott Government’s reckless and disrespectful motion. It has sent a clear message to governments everywhere that World Heritage has to be respected.

This result would never have been possible without the help of tens of thousands of Australians, like you, who stood tall over the past months to show your support for your World Heritage.

Thank you to everyone who joined the rallies across Australia, emailed the Prime Minister and created a surge of support online that was so loud it couldn’t be ignored. A huge thank you to those of you who donated to send our local Tasmanian team to Doha – armed with incredible images from the forests themselves, to counter the Abbott Government’s spurious arguments in-person at the Committee meeting. 

Even the Tasmanian forestry industry stood against the Abbott Government’s attempt to de-list the World Heritage forests, thanks to their support of the Tasmanian Forest Agreement. But now, with this chapter of Tasmania's World Heritage forests resolved, attention turns to the defence of the Tasmanian Forests Agreement.

With legislation currently before the Tasmanian Parliament to axe 400,000 hectares of protected forests, we need to build on the success of this fantastic World Heritage outcome to safeguard the region's other spectacular forests.

We’ll need your ongoing support to ensure other spectacular forests like the Blue Tier, Tarkine, Wielangta and Bruny Island are not put back on the list of threatened forests by the Tasmanian Government.

On behalf of Tasmania’s World Heritage forests, thank you for standing tall and calling for respect.

Lyndon Schneiders and Vica Bayley

National Director / Tasmanian Campaign Manager

 Humpback whale bubble rings

funny pictures

 Enjoy the whale spectacle, just keep your distance - Published: 24/06/2014 - c/- GBRMPA

The humpback highway, stretching from the icy cold waters of the Antarctic to the balmy waters of the Great Barrier Reef, is once again flowing with traffic. From their tail-slapping displays to powerful breaches through the water, migrating humpback whales are putting on one of nature’s greatest annual spectacles.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s species conservation manager, Mark Read, urged whale-watching enthusiasts and visitors to keep a safe distance for the safety of these majestic creatures, as well as onlookers.

“These giants of the deep never cease to amaze, even for people like whale researchers or tourism operators who are lucky enough to have interactions with them each year,” Dr Read said. “But given the growth in recreational vessel registrations and the popularity of commercial whale watching, it’s becoming increasingly important for people to abide by approach distances.

“The number of humpback whales is growing annually by 10 to 11 per cent, so one of the best things we can do to reduce the risk to the whales and the people watching them is to abide by approach distances.

Vessels need to stay more than 100 metres away from a whale, while in the Whitsundays Whale Protection Area the distance is 300 metres.

“They must also keep a distance of at least 300 metres from a whale calf.

“If a whale approaches the vessel, operators must keep the motor out of gear and wait for the whales to move away before motoring away.”

Other tips include avoid making sudden noise, speed or direction changes; being quiet when you’re near a whale; and moving away immediately if the whale suddenly changes behaviour and appears agitated.

The east coast population of humpback whales has slowly clawed back from the edge of extinction since whaling was stopped in the early 1960s.

It’s believed numbers were reduced to 200–500 individuals, compared to the current estimate of around 17,000–19,000.

Dr Read said humpbacks make the trek to the Reef between May and September to court, mate, give birth or rear their calves.

“The more people who see these magical creatures, the more it reinforces the message that it’s important to protect them and the surroundings that support them,” he said.

“Their sheer size makes them one of the most iconic elements of the Marine Park’s rich biodiversity.”

Fifteen species of whales can be found in the Great Barrier Reef. While humpback whales are the most commonly sighted, other species include dwarf minke whales which are largely seen in the far northern part of the Marine Park, as well as false killer whales, killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, sperm whales and various beaked whales.

Whale watchers are encouraged to submit their photos or footage to GBRMPA's Sightings Network which helps in the management and conservation of the Great Barrier Reef.

Around whales and dolphins NSW Regulations

Caution zone: a distance of between 100 m and 300 m from a whale and between 50 m and 150 m from a dolphin. In the caution zone, vessels must travel at a constant slow speed and leave a negligible wake.

Negligible wake: wake that does not create waves big enough to make nearby boats move. 

Prohibited vessels: these are vessels that can make fast and erratic movements and not much noise underwater, so there is more chance they may collide with a marine mammal. Such vessels include personal motorised watercraft like jet skis, parasail boats, hovercraft, hydrofoils, wing-in-ground effect craft, remotely operated craft or motorised diving aids like underwater scooters.

Few wildlife experiences could compare to the sight of a massive whale majestically rising out of the water and flopping backwards, or a pod of dolphins playfully showing off their acrobatic skills.

The Great Barrier Reef is a vitally important breeding ground for about 30 species of whales and dolphins (or ‘cetaceans’). One of the most commonly sighted whales are the massive humpbacks which make the trek to the Reef’s warmer waters from Antarctica between May to September to court, mate, give birth or rear their calves.

It’s critical for their continued survival that their ‘nurseries’ are available to them, free from any harassment which may lead to calf mortality.

As someone who shares the waters with the Reef’s precious cetaceans, you have a responsibility to help protect them and to keep safe distances.

By following these responsible practices when you’re in the vicinity of whales and dolphins, you’re not only playing a big part in their conservation but you’re also providing a safe environment to watch them:

Report sick, injured, stranded or dead whales or dolphins. Also report if your vessel accidentally strikes a whale.

When boating around whales

Be alert and watch out for whales at all times, particularly during whale migration season (May to September)

Post a look out to keep an eye out for whales if they are suspected in the vicinity

Do not approach or disturb mothers and calves – never place a boat between them

Always move in a parallel direction to the whale or dolphin

Do not use engine sound or speed to attempt to influence the behaviour of a whale

When you’re leaving an area where whales were present, turn the motor on, post a look out, and move off slowly

Slow down to minimise the risk of collision where whales have been sighted

Report any boat strikes and reassure your passengers that the relevant authorities have been contacted to assist the whale.

When boating around dolphins

Do not intentionally drive through a pod of dolphins to try to get them to bow-ride – some dolphins don’t bow ride, and can become disturbed near boats

If you do come across dolphins bow riding, maintain a constant speed and direction.

When viewing whales and dolphins

Never try to overtake whales or dolphins

Avoid making sudden noise, speed or direction changes

Be quiet when you are near a whale or dolphin

Let the whale or dolphin control the situation – do not try to round up or herd

Move away immediately if the whales or dolphins suddenly change behaviour and appear agitated. 

Behaviours that indicate that boats should move away include:

Bumping the vessel; Rapid changes in swimming direction or speed; Erratic behaviour; Escape behaviour such as prolonged deep dives; Tail slapping or swishing.

Marine Parks Legal Requirements

All whales and dolphins in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are legally protected. When operating a vessel or aircraft check safe distances diagram (above).

 Modelling Australia's Oceans - Published on 25 Jun 2014

CSIRO researcher Dr Beth Fulton is a world leader in marine ecosystem modelling. She makes maps of the future, to predict how climate change will affect our oceans and devise strategies to minimise its impacts.

Plastic Free July - Take the Challenge! 

Bird Watching with Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA)

Come Birdwatching with us Sunday July 6, Warriewood Wetlands, one of Sydney's premier bird spots. Book thru

Sunday Birdwatching with PNHA

Would you like to know more about local birds? Our guides can help you see and hear them in these wonderful bushland reserves, and learn about their lives.

Our birdwalks start about 7.30 and end about 10am. Bring Binoculars and some morning tea for afterwards if you like. Older children welcome. 

6 July Warriewood Wetland, Warriewood

21 September Deep Creek, off Wakehurst Parkway

16 November Irrawong Reserve, Warriewood

Contact us to book and get details of each birdwalk.

Email or ph: 0439 409 202/0402 605 721


Plant a Tree for National Tree Day! 

National Tree Day will be spread out across two fabulous days for Pittwater residents, beginning with a native plant giveaway – the best way to celebrate is by bringing a tree home with you!

Come along to Centro Warriewood (at the community room near Centre Management) on Saturday 26 July, 10am-2pm to pick up a free native plant.

Then, on Sunday 27 July, 9am-12pm you can take part in the biggest community tree planting and nature care event, at Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park, North Narrabeen.

It’s a great way for Pittwater residents to help out by planting and caring for native trees and shrubs – as well as improving the environment in which they live.

National Tree Day started in 1996 and since then more than 2.8 million people have planted 20 million seedlings.

Contact Council’s Bushcare Officer for further details: 99701367

  Have your say on draft report - managing Brigalow Nandewar State Conservation Areas -  Media Release 23 June 2014 

The Natural Resources Commission (NRC) invites community and stakeholder submissions on its draft report for actively managing white cypress pine in the State Conservation Areas in the Brigalow Nandewar Community Conservation Area. 

“There is evidence that the State Conservation Areas contain some large areas of dense white cypress pine. This situation can impact the ecological health of these forests and other environmental values, and may get worse in the future. These forests are very different to the old growth forests found on the coast and ranges in NSW” said Dr Keniry. 

“We continue to risk losing things we value, such as threatened species with the current business-as-usual approach. Reserve managers need to be pro-active, and improve and defend the health of these forests in a timely way. Ecological thinning is one approach the Commission has recommended to encourage the growth and regeneration of important trees and shrubs our native animals rely on.” 

“The Commission’s recommendations place the ecological health of these forests first and foremost” said Dr Keniry. “However, taking a pro-active approach to improve the things we value comes at a cost. Residues from ecological thinning provide a practical means to recover the costs of environmental management, and also provide secondary benefits to local communities.” 

The draft recommendations outline a number of proposed reforms to improve the management of State Conservation Areas in the Brigalow Nandewar region including implementing ecological thinning and targeted grazing with existing interventions such as controlled burning and pest management. 

The NRC has also recommended that Office of Environment and Heritage prioritise the development of plans for management, consistent with best practice adaptive management for Pilliga, Pilliga West, Goonoo and Trinkey State Conservation Areas. 

The draft recommendations have been informed by public submissions and consultation with relevant industry, Aboriginal, environment and community groups. 

Submissions are invited for the next six weeks and should be received by 1 August 2014. The NRC will continue to consult with stakeholders over the submission period. 

The NRC will consider all submissions when preparing its final report for the Government. 

The draft report is available on the NRC’s website

Under the scenic valleys of the Central Coast is a pristine water resource that 300,000 people rely on. Like so many communities in NSW: the Central Coast have found themselves fighting to defend their water against a company seeking to dig a massive new coal mine.

Let's fix the system that is allowing this unfair coal mine proposal.

The project is called Wallarah 2, and the company is South Korean government-owned Kores. It's has been rattling around the planning system for years and years. The community has been through countless public meetings, written submissions time and time again, and appealed to politicians on all sides.

Wallarah 2 has already been rejected by the previous NSW Government, and the current Liberal-National Government won votes with the promise this mine would not go ahead: "no ifs, no buts, a guarantee". They broke their promise.

The voices against this mine are stacking up. This month the local Aboriginal Land Council took the fight against the mine to the Land and Environment Court, and won. The Planning Assessment Commission delivered a scathing rebuke of the NSW Planning Department because they uncritically accepted the miner's claims. Unsurprisingly it seems the coal company's economic figures were exaggerated, or as the Planning Assessment Commission described them, "not credible".

We're tired just thinking about it. So imagine how it feels for the Central Coast community.

So many communities are locked in similar battles as big coal and gas projects are allowed to encroach. The system is broken. But we have a plan to restore balance to the way coal and gas is assessed in NSW. Our plan puts communities at the heart of decision-making. Join us as we call on NSW Planning Minister Pru Goward to give communities a fair go.

Sign on today.

Let's show them our state is more than a web of mining licences, it's our home,

Holly and the Our Land, Our Water, Our Future team.

 Save Ballina's Koalas

You can play your part in saving Ballina's koalas by requesting that the route for Section 10 of the Pacific Highway Upgrade does not pass through the "Important Koala Population Area" as defined by the Ballina Shire Koala Habitat Study. 

This map depicts an alternative route option that avoids the important koala habitat and Indigenous cultural area. Less agricultural land would be lost because it utilises the existing highway corridor as much as possible. The Wardell by-pass alternative is still 2.4kms shorter than the RMS-preferred route (the by-pass could be taken further east) so we believe there would be considerable cost-saving.

Get informed and check out the Biolink report on the Ballina LGA Koala Habitat and Population Assessment; heres the link


RMS now tell us that they will be trialing new koala protection measures when they construct Section 10 of the Pacific highway Upgrade. Please write to the ministers who will make a decision on this soon asking them not to risk the “important koala population” in the Meerchaum Vale/Uralba area by constructing a 4 lane motorway through their home range with untried koala protection measures.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP. PO Box 6022, House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra ACT

The Hon. Pru Goward, MP. Level 34 Governor Macquarie Tower, 1 Farrer Place, SYDNEY NSW

Save Ballina’s Koalas

Banksia Sustainability Awards 2014

Applications for the 2014 Banksia Sustainability Awards are now open - with early bird entries closing July 25th!


2014 Banksia Sustainability Awards:

The Banksia Awards comprise 11 Category Awardsand the Environment Minister's Cleaner Environment Awardto choose from in 2014.

The entry system provides you with the technical information and criteria for all Banksia Awards. Entrants for these Awards can be individuals, not-for-profit organisations, community groups, governments, businesses and corporations.

In some instances your project, initiative or achievement may be eligible for one or more awards. We encourage you to carefully review all awards to see if you are eligible for more than one opportunity.

Note: each category is a separate application, therefore has differing requirements and is an additional cost.

If you need some assistance in choosing the award/s best suited to your initiative, contact Banksia.

 2014 Australasian Bird Fair - Australasia’s first Bird Fair

The 2014 Australasian Bird Fair will be the first large-scale bird and wildlife event of its kind in Australasia. The Fair is a response to the need to raise awareness of the plight of so many bird species which are in peril across the Australasian region.  All profits from the bird fair will go to bird conservation. 

The Australasian Bird Fair will have something for everyone!


 Partnering with islands for a sustainable world from United Nations

On 1-4 September 2014, the global community will gather in Apia, Samoa, for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS). This is an event that will offer a once in a decade opportunity for the world's leaders to focus attention on a group of countries that remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities.

What happens with these small islands has global effects. 

"As we are at the final stage of designing a global development agenda beyond 2015, this conference will further provide Small Islands the opportunity to be more involved in this process. It will

give them a global stage, to let their voices be heard. It will also provide an opportunity for real actions, and more effective partnerships," says Conference Secretary-General and UN DESA's Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo.

 NSW Biodiversity legislation review

On 18 June, the terms of reference for a comprehensive review of the legislative framework for threatened species and native vegetation management in New South Wales were released.

The review process

The review of biodiversity legislation has been established to look at the legislative and policy framework for the management of native vegetation, threatened species and other protected native animals and plants in NSW.

The scope of the review will include the Native Vegetation Act 2003, Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, Nature Conservation Trust Act 2001 and the parts of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 that relate to native plants and animals and private land conservation.

Terms of Reference

The Terms of Reference set out the matters the panel will examine in its review.

Biodiversity legislation review terms of reference

The Minister for the Environment has appointed an independent panel to undertake a comprehensive review of the Native Vegetation Act  2003, Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and related biodiversity legislation.

The current legislative framework has become fragmented, overly complex and process driven. It creates inconsistent regulatory standards across different sectors and fails to deliver the right incentives for industry and landholders.

The current laws do not deliver balanced outcomes across the NSW Government’s environmental, social and economic objectives. The laws also no longer link coherently with emerging laws and policies.

While each piece of legislation has been subject to many separate amendments, a major holistic review of the native vegetation and biodiversity legislation in NSW has never been undertaken and the Government considers that such a review is necessary to achieve the Government’s goals and policy objectives.

This review aims to establish simpler, streamlined and more effective legislation that will:

•facilitate the conservation of biological diversity

•support sustainable development

•reduce red-tape.


The Independent Review Panel will consider the policy settings, programs and funding arrangements that support the management of biodiversity, threatened species and native vegetation in NSW.

The scope of the review will include the Native Vegetation Act 2003, Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, Nature Conservation Trust Act 2001 and Part 4 Divisions 11 through 13, Part 6A (insofar as it relates to native plants and animals), and Parts 7 through 9 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. It will include all associated regulations and policies. 

Guiding principles

The panel will be guided by the broad goals and reform directions set out in NSW 2021 and by the principles set out in the 2012 Commission of Audit, which are:

•a focus on devolution to regional and local levels

•an increased focus on partnership and outsourcing

•greater focus on transparency and evidence based decisions

•fostering greater collaboration and coordination between government and the private and community sectors

•budget restraint.

The panel will also be guided by the strategic goals and approach set out in the Office of Environment and Heritage Corporate Plan 2014–2017. In particular, the panel will find ways to:

•increase regulatory efficiency, remove duplication and promote consistency in approval requirements

•increase upfront clarity and transparency in environmental standards

•minimise the private costs and maximise the public benefits of regulation

•encourage economic development, including by supporting regional and rural communities without devaluing the environment and biodiversity

•build resilience to environmental hazards and risks.


1. The panel will evaluate the current legislative framework. In doing so it will consider:

•the objectives of the current legislation and whether they remain valid

•whether the current policy framework reflects best practice in biodiversity conservation

•approaches and experiences of other states and territories, and relevant jurisdictions overseas

•the social and economic impacts of the legislation including whether the current regulatory provisions balance environmental, social and economic factors in decision making (i.e. consideration of the triple bottom line)

•any perverse environmental and regulatory outcomes

•whether the current provisions facilitate effective and proportionate compliance

•to what extent the current policy frameworks sufficiently encourage the abatement of environmental risks, protect and restore key ecosystem processes and prevent species extinctions

whether current arrangements appropriately deal with new and emerging policy frameworks in NSW and nationally, including the planning reforms, the proposed NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy, a NSW Biosecurity Act, local government reforms, regional service delivery models and associated strategic plans, and State–Commonwealth bilateral and strategic agreements.

2. The panel will consider the evidence base for government intervention, including:

•the status, trends and pressures on native vegetation, biodiversity and ecological processes

•the relationship between healthy ecosystems (including water, land and biodiversity) and sustainable development

•likely future environmental conditions given existing and emerging threats including climate change.

3. The panel will propose new legislative arrangements for biodiversity conservation in NSW. It will consider:

•an overall philosophy for biodiversity conservation in NSW and objectives to underpin a new legislative framework

•ways to incorporate environmental, social and economic considerations (i.e. triple the bottom line) into decision-making frameworks

•options to identify biodiversity priorities given proposed biodiversity conservation objectives

•opportunities to improve regulatory efficiency, remove duplication and adopt proportionate, risk-based approaches to regulation and compliance

the concept and practice of ‘duty of care’ in relation to native vegetation management in the context of land, water and biodiversity conservation objectives along with measures to promote cost sharing for biodiversity conservation and native vegetation management

•measures to promote upfront clarity and transparency in environmental standards including options for self-regulation

•options for effectively integrating native vegetation management with the protection and maintenance of land and water resources and the conservation of biodiversity

•removing barriers and providing incentives to voluntary private land conservation, and measures to reduce duplication, promote paid stewardship and foster greater collaboration and coordination between government and the community

•appropriate frameworks to abate environmental risks, prevent species extinction and maintain ecological processes

•governance arrangements, statutory concurrence and consultation requirements, and compliance and enforcement provisions.


The Independent Review Panel will recommend reforms to improve the legislative and policy framework for biodiversity conservation and native vegetation management in NSW.

The Minister will provide progress reports to Cabinet based on the panel’s work.

The panel will provide an interim report to the Minister for the Environment within four months of the announcement of the terms of reference, setting out an evaluation of the current framework which addresses items 1 and 2 in these terms of reference.

The panel will provide a final report to the Minister for the Environment within six months, which addresses item 3 in these terms of reference.

Stakeholder engagement

The Independent Review Panel is to ensure thorough engagement with all interested stakeholders, including landholders, industry, developers, councils, non-government organisations and members of Parliament.

The review may commission and fund some key stakeholder groups to undertake relevant research or policy option development.

Interagency Senior Officers Group

The review will be supported by an interagency Senior Officers Group (SOG). The SOG will provide whole-of-government input to the review and identify interactions with related policy and legislative frameworks.

Separately, the SOG will also prepare a draft government response to the review report.


The Office of Environment and Heritage will provide secretariat support to the operations of the panel and the SOG.


The independent panel has been asked to prepare and maintain an active program of stakeholder engagement throughout the review process. The panel will provide details of its engagement approach as soon as possible.

Above retrieved from the OEH, June 20, 2014

Review Panel: 

Chair: Dr Neil Byron, Dr Wendy Craik AM, Dr John Keniry AM and Professor Hugh Possingham

See more at HERE

 What is a Habitat Stepping Stone?

A habitat is an animal’s surrounding physical environment. All animals, from the smallest bug to the largest mammal (including us), need certain things within their habitat to survive and to thrive. By providing the types of food, water and shelter that benefit local wildlife, you can create a habitat link between the existing wildlife corridors in your area. Over half of Australia's threatened species and ecosystems occur within the urban fringe, and Ku-ring-gai is home to 12 threatened animal species and 18 threatened plants.

Different animals need different habitat elements. A kookaburra needs a high branch from which to scout for food, while small birds such as finches and fairy-wrens need dense and prickly shrubs in which to hide. Plants and animals need each other for survival, so it’s important that our urban areas support a large range of birds, bees, butterflies, frogs, lizards, mammals and more. The greater the variety of Food, Water and Shelterelements you have in your garden, the more native wildlife you will help.

The habitat elements on this website have been chosen for the Ku-ring-gai area of Sydney, but many would suitable elsewhere in Australia.

If you pledge to add at least three elements to your place, you can create your very own habitat stepping stone. There are 60 to choose from, so go ahead – be creative!



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

Midwifery matters 'more than ever,' experts say

June 23, 2014 - Midwifery has a crucial part to play in saving the lives of millions of women and children who die during and around the time of pregnancy, according to a major new Series, published in The Lancet. The Series, produced by an international group of academics, clinicians, professional midwives, policymakers and advocates for women and children, is the most critical, wide-reaching examination of midwifery ever conducted. It shows the scale of the positive impact that can be achieved when effective, high-quality midwifery is available to all women and their babies. Apart from saving lives, it also improves their continuing health and wellbeing and has other long-lasting benefits.

The authors also produce evidence of a trend towards the overmedicalization of pregnancy, and the use of unnecessary interventions such as caesarean sections, in high-income and lower-income countries, with consequent hazards and costs.

According to Professor Mary Renfrew of the Mother and Infant Research Unit, School of Nursing and Midwifery, at Dundee University, Scotland, one of the Series authors, "Many of the needs of childbearing women, their babies, and families across the world are still not being met, despite long-standing recognition that women and their babies need access to health care which provides more than just emergency interventions for acute medical problems. Although midwifery is already widely acknowledged as making a vital and cost-effective contribution to high-quality maternal and newborn care in many countries, its potential social, economic and health benefits are far from being realized on a global scale."

Every year, nearly 300,000 women are thought to die during pregnancy, childbirth or soon after. Around 2.6 million women suffer stillbirths, and 2.9 million infants die in the first month of life. Millions more women and their families suffer long-term health, financial, and emotional problems, simply because they have not received adequate health care before, during, or immediately after pregnancy.

New estimates produced for the Series suggest that in the countries with the highest burden of infant and maternal deaths, over three quarters of stillbirths and maternal and newborn deaths could be prevented in the next 15 years if effective midwifery was available to all women. Even if improvements in the coverage of midwifery services were much more modest, the potential for saving lives is huge - if coverage of midwifery services increased from current levels by just a quarter, the authors estimate that the current rate of maternal deaths could be halved by 2030.

While most maternal and child deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, where lack of access to effective midwifery is the primary obstacle to improving mothers' and infants' health, the Series also says that overmedicalization of pregnancy is increasingly threatening the health and wellbeing of women and their families in both high-income and lower-income countries. The Series authors argue that routine use of unnecessary interventions, including caesarean sections, limited mobility in labour, and episiotomy can have a lasting effect on mothers' and infants' health and wellbeing.

According to another of the authors, Professor Caroline Homer, of the Faculty of Health at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, "Both underuse and overuse of medical interventions in pregnancy contribute to short- and long-term illness for an estimated 20 million childbearing women. This not only effects their health and wellbeing, but may also result in their needing to pay for ongoing health-care costs, and on the ability of their families to escape poverty."

The return on investment from the education and deployment of community-based midwives is thought to be similar to vaccination in terms of the cost per life saved. However, according to the Series authors, the scale of the potential effect that increasing access to effective midwifery could have is yet to receive adequate international recognition. Barriers to wider uptake of the effective midwifery practices include a lack of understanding about what midwifery can do, low status of women in society, interprofessional rivalries, and unregulated private sector care for mothers' and infants' health.

To address these barriers, the Series outlines a new framework describing the characteristics of care that women, babies and families need, before, during, and after pregnancy. For the first time, the framework addresses not just what must be done for women and their families during this period, but how it must be done, where, and by whom. The authors hope that as well as providing a blueprint for progress in improving midwifery care worldwide, the framework will also be used to evaluate success, and to help build capacity in the countries most affected by maternal and infant deaths.

According to another of the Series authors, Professor Petra ten Hoope-Bender, of the Instituto do Cooperación Social Integrare, Barcelona, Spain: "Although the level and type of risks related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum and the early weeks of life differ between countries and settings, the need to implement effective, sustainable, and affordable improvements in the quality of care is common to all, and midwifery is pivotal to this approach.

"However, it is important to understand that to be most effective, a midwife must have access to a functioning health-care service, and for her work to be respected, and integrated with other health-care professionals; the provision of health care and midwifery services must be effectively connected across communities and health- care facilities."

Access to the series can be found online

 Alcohol use increases over generation in study of moms, daughters in Australia

June 25, 2014 - Previous research suggests drinking patterns have changed with more heavy drinking at younger ages. New research shows drinking alcohol has increased over a generation in a study of mothers and daughters in Australia. The study was completed by Rosa Alati, Ph.D., M.Appl.Sc., of the University of Queensland, Australia, and colleagues. The authors compared change in alcohol use over a generation of young women born in Australia born from 1981 to 1983 with that of their mothers at the same age. Data from an Australian birth cohort study were used for the two generations of women. The study included 1,053 mothers and daughters with complete data after 21 years of follow-up.

The daughters had greater odds of consuming high and moderate levels of alcohol than their mothers. Daughters between the ages of 18 and 25 had more than five times the odds of consuming the highest level of alcohol (more than 30 glasses of alcohol per month) and nearly three times the odds of consuming between seven and 30 glasses per month. Not having a dependent child roughly doubled the odds of all levels of drinking in both mothers and daughters. Having a partner doubled the odds of daughters consuming high levels of alcohol while the odds of drinking at the highest levels were more than five times for mothers who were single. Higher education had no effect on consumption.

"In summary, this study provides strong evidence for a large increase in young female drinking during recent decades, as reflected in the drinking of mothers and their female offspring in their early 20s. International research is urgently needed to confirm what we suspect is a trend, which may have been underestimated in many Western countries. It may be time for more aggressive antialcohol programs aimed at young women."

Rosa Alati, Kim S. Betts, Gail M. Williams, Jacob M. Najman, Wayne D. Hall. Generational Increase in Young Women’s Drinking. JAMA Psychiatry, 2014; DOI:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.513

 Public health experts stand by for disaster - 23 June 2014

A flying squad of Australian public health specialists has been officially launched, bringing together for the first time leading public health experts who can rush to emergencies to stop the spread of infectious diseases.

The rapid-response network is a collaboration between UNSW, the ANU and the Burnet Institute. It has already sent a team to respond to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year.

Known as the ARM network (Australian Response Masters of Applied Epidemiology), the group of doctors, nurses, vets, scientists and public health officials is on standby for emergencies in Australia and for requests from the World Health Organization and other international bodies to respond to infectious diseases emergencies.

The ARM is funded by in-kind support from all three institutions and was established after a workshop hosted by UNSW’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine (SPHCM).

“The network fills a critical gap in Australia’s surge response capacity for infectious diseases outbreaks that cross state and international borders. We have many skilled professionals who are willing to deploy in emergencies, but previously had no avenue to do so,” says UNSW Professor Raina MacIntyre, who is head of SPHCM and Co-Director of ARM.

The launch came as Professor MacIntyre received a national award for her work in infectious diseases.

Professor MacIntyre was given the National Immunisation Achievement Award for her research and advocacy surrounding immunisation policy and population health in Australia and internationally. It was awarded by thePublic Health Association of Australia (PHAA).

Professor MacIntyre called for more vigilance to ensure the elderly don’t miss out on vaccines for preventable diseases.

She says only 50 to 60% of older Australians get the vaccines they could, whereas more than 90% of children are fully immunised.

“Given our ageing society, older age of retirement and reliance on older people remaining in the workforce, immunisation is low-hanging fruit for healthy ageing. However there is under-use of vaccines in this age group,” she says.

Research has shown inequality in immunisation practices, with older people less likely to be vaccinated, especially if they are over 80 years of age, or living with dementia.

Professor MacIntyre was part of a workshop focusing on vaccines for the elderly, which was co-hosted by the PHAA and the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Population Health Research, of which she is director.

 Seafarers brought me... (25th June - Day of Seafarer)Published on 24 Jun 2014 from United Nations

On 25th June every year, Day of the Seafarer celebrates the vital yet often hidden work done by seafarers to transport goods and commodities all around the globe. The film illustrates the unseen connections between those who serve at sea and the things we take for granted in our everyday lives.

 Sound waves harnessed to enable precision micro- and nano-manufacturing

June 24, 2014 – In a breakthrough discovery, researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have harnessed the power of sound waves to enable precision micro- and nano-manufacturing.

The researchers have demonstrated how high-frequency sound waves can be used to precisely control the spread of thin film fluid along a specially-designed chip, in a paper published today inProceedings of the Royal Society A.

With thin film technology the bedrock of microchip and microstructure manufacturing, the pioneering research offers a significant advance - potential applications range from thin film coatings for paint and wound care to 3D printing, micro-casting and micro-fluidics.

Professor James Friend, Director of the MicroNano Research Facility at RMIT, said the researchers had developed a portable system for precise, fast and unconventional micro- and nano-fabrication.

"By tuning the sound waves, we can create any pattern we want on the surface of a microchip," Professor Friend said.

"Manufacturing using thin film technology currently lacks precision ¬- structures are physically spun around to disperse the liquid and coat components with thin film.

"We've found that thin film liquid either flows towards or away from high-frequency sound waves, depending on its thickness.

"We not only discovered this phenomenon but have also unravelled the complex physics behind the process, enabling us to precisely control and direct the application of thin film liquid at a micro and nano-scale."

The new process, which the researchers have called "acoustowetting," works on a chip made of lithium niobate ¬- a piezoelectric material capable of converting electrical energy into mechanical pressure.

The surface of the chip is covered with microelectrodes and the chip is connected to a power source, with the power converted to high-frequency sound waves. Thin film liquid is added to the surface of the chip, and the sound waves are then used to control its flow.

The research shows that when the liquid is ultra-thin- at nano and sub-micro depths - it flows away from the high-frequency sound waves.

The flow reverses at slightly thicker dimensions, moving towards the sound waves. But at a millimetre or more in depth, the flow reverses again, moving away.

Amgad R. Rezk, Ofer Manor; Leslie Y. Yeo, and James R. Friend.Double Flow Reversal in Thin Liquid Films Driven by MHz Order Surface Vibration. Proceedings of the Royal Society A, 25 June 2014

Acoustowetting - micro-manufacturing with high-frequency sound waves | RMIT University

 Handing on a sustainable future   Published on 26 Jun 2014

How can we maintain resources for future generations?

Economists have studied how people cooperate in groups, but they haven't looked specifically at whether individuals are happy to cooperate with future generations who cannot reciprocate. A team led by Martin Nowak of Harvard University wanted to test whether groups of people could sustain a resource over several 'generations' of players. See what happened in this handy, candy-filled Nature Video.

 ReMoTe Assistance by CSIRO - Published on 23 Jun 2014

Our researchers have developed the Remote Mobile Tele-assistance (ReMoTe) technology, which connects remote experts with on-site operators to provide direct real-time assistance when problems arise.

ReMoTe is hands free, wearable, and is operational in various environmental conditions. It has been designed for ease of use, so technicians can operate it without any training or prior skills. See how our partners in manufacturing and aviation are using this new technology.

 Honorary degree for Westpac chief 

- 23 June 2014

Westpac chief executive and managing director Mrs Gail Kelly has been awarded UNSW’s highest honour – the degree of Doctor of Business, honoris causa.

Mrs Kelly was one of six eminent Australians to receive honorary degrees in the University’s most recent graduation season.

Also honoured were Mr Len Ainsworth (Doctor of the University), Mr Peter Tyree (Doctor of Engineering), Mrs Kathryn Greiner AO (Doctor of Letters), Dr Robert Every (Doctor of Science) and Mr Jihad Dib (Doctor of Education).

Mrs Kelly was honoured for her eminent service to the education sector and the community.

Renowned for her customer focused approach and inclusive leadership, Mrs Kelly has been head of the Westpac Group since 2008. In 2002, she became the first woman to lead a major Australian bank when she was appointed CEO of St.George.

Reading Mrs Kelly’s citation, UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Ian Martin said it was difficult to detail all her significant achievements and contributions.

Westpac recently announced the most significant act of corporate philanthropy in Australia’s history with a $100 million grant to establish an endowed education fund. The Westpac Bicentennial Foundation will work in partnership with Australian universities to support programs that build Australia’s ties with Asian economies and increase our competitive position in technology and innovation. More than 10,000 students will benefit from the program, paving the way for Australia’s future prosperity.

Last year Mrs Kelly gave the keynote Wallace Wurth address at the unveiling of the bust of Nelson Mandela at UNSW, where she reflected on how Mandela’s leadership style had influenced her own, and outlined the four themes she learnt through his legacy: conviction (through clear vision and purpose), courage, generosity of spirit and resilience.

Above: UNSW Chancellor Mr David Gonski and Mrs Kelly

 Ladybird developer awarded researcher of the year - 24 June 2014

The Ladybird in action on Cowra beetroot farm

University of Sydney robotics expert Professor Salah Sukkarieh has been awarded "Researcher of the Year " by the Australian Vegetable Industry 's peak body Ausveg for his work on intelligent farm robots, in particular the"Ladybird".

The "Ladybird " was designed and built specifically for the vegetable industry with the aim of creating a ground robot with supporting intelligent software and the capability to conduct autonomous farm surveillance, mapping, classification, and detection for a variety of different vegetables.

Professor Sukkarieh who leads a research team dedicated to the advancement of agricultural robotics says his group aims to redefine key areas of field robotics such as sensory technology, materials development and complex autonomous mechanisms.

He says the automation of on-farm processes is poised to play a decisive role in minimising input and maximising output of future agriculture. Automation can help to increase efficiency and yield, by having many of the manual tasks of farming performed by specially designed agricultural robotic devices.

"Ladybird focuses on broad acre agriculture and is solar-electric powered. It has an array of sensors for detecting vegetable growth and pest species, either plant or animal.

She also has a robotic arm for the purposes of removing weeds as well as the potential for autonomous harvesting," says Professor Sukkarieh.

According to Professor Sukkarieh the Ladybird 's first field trip recently conducted in Cowra was a success.

"The robot was able to drive fully autonomously up and down rows and from one row to the next, while gathering sensor data. Sensors include lasers, cameras and hyper spectral cameras.

Part of our research program is to find new ways to provide valuable information to growers about the state of their paddocks. "

The solar-electric powered bot was charged before heading to the onion, beetroot and spinach farms of Cowra and was fully operational for three consecutive days on the farm.

Future testing of the Ladybird will included a robot manipulator arm located under the vehicle that has potential for spot sensing or spot sampling and looking towards automated harvesting.

An international expert on field robotics and intelligent systems, Professor Sukkarieh will this week address the PMA Fresh Connections conference, held in Auckland, New Zealand - Australasia 's largest pan-industry fresh fruit, vegetable and floral trade show.

As part of the University 's Charles Perkins Centre novel research collaborations Professor Sukkarieh is also working with colleagues from Veterinary Science, Agriculture, Science and Business, to develop new ideas and technologies that will improve our complex food production systems.


Directed by JOE G and featuring GLOBE surf team riders DION AGIUS, NATE TYLER, TAJ BURROW, YADIN NICOL, DAMIEN HOBGOOD, CREED MCTAGGART, CJ HOBGOOD, ALEX SMITH, NOA DEANE, BRENDON GIBBENS, and MORE - STRANGE RUMBLINGS IN SHANGRI LA is a modern surf film that documents an unforgettable worldwide journey from the frigid shores of ICELAND to the sultry coastline of MOZAMBIQUE. From well-known spots in EUROPE to exotic islands off the coast of BRAZIL and into DEEPEST INDONESIA, this is their greatest adventure yet.

Be a part of the journey as Strange Rumblings in Shangri-LA roars to life this summer, premiering during the U.S. Open of Surfing on July 31st, before heading off on an international tour to Australia, Brazil, France, Japan, and across the U.S.A. 

The anticipation is growing, the excitement is building…there are Strange Rumblings in Shangri-LA.

 Safe water for the people in Tanzania

Hydraulic engineer Andrea Schäfer and photovoltaics expert Bryce Richards have developed a solar filtration system to produce high-quality drinking water from polluted brackish water and tested it successfully in Tanzania. The test results are currently being analyzed at the KIT. The filter effectively separates undesired substances, bacteria, and viruses. Fluoride concentration that often is extremely high in Tanzania is reduced below the limit given by the World Health Organization (WHO). The system combines two membrane techniques for the separation of smallest particles and dissolved contaminants. As it is robust and autonomously mobile, it is suited well for water supply in poor and rural areas.

Outside of the rainy season, the area of Mdori which is located in the north of Tanzania in the region of Manyara is extremely hot and dry. Water is scarce, the lake located nearby has an extremely high salt concentration. A well drilled to extract water from a natural spring supplies water with a high salt concentration and 60 µg of fluoride per liter - 40 times the concentration limit given by the WHO -. This water is not potable. At this spring, Professor Andrea Schäfer and Professor Bryce Richards, who are now working at the KIT, tested their water filtration system ROSI (Reverse Osmosis Solar Installation).

The system can be operated with solar and/or wind power. It combines ultrafiltration membranes of about 50 nm in pore size to retain macromolecular substances, particles, bacteria, and viruses with membranes for nanofiltration and reverse osmosis with pore sizes below 1 nm to remove dissolved molecules from the water.Andrea Schäfer and Bryce Richards conceived ROSI in Australia and developed it further in Scotland before they started to plan their field tests at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Tanzania. In February and March this year, they tested the system at places like Mdori. Presently, Schäfer and Richards are evaluating the test results at the KIT. In the next phase, the systems will be installed at the locations selected.

As the system is run directly by solar power without batteries, the behavior of the filter changes as a function of the light conditions: Under full solar irradiation, the filtration system reduces the fluoride concentration of the water below the WHO limit of 1.5 mg/l. As a result of the change between day and night and strong temporary cloud formation in the region of Mdori, however, energy supply varies considerably. It is interrupted, if solar irradiation is insufficient. Influence of such fluctuations on water quality was one of the aspects covered by the tests of the researchers. "If less power is available, pressure decreases. As a result, less water passes the membranes. The fluoride concentration increases for a short term," Professor Andrea Schäfer explains. She heads the Membrane Technology Division of the Institute of Functional Interfaces (IFG) of KIT. "The concentration of fluoride and other pollutants, however, is balanced as soon as more water passes the filter again. Hence, the water is completely safe."

Andrea Schäfer and Bryce Richards, Professor of Nanophotonics for Energy at the KIT, are now looking for companies to support system manufacture and installation and operation in rural regions of Tanzania. One system can supply about 50 people with high-quality drinking water and water for household use. "At the moment, no other system removes pollutants, such as fluoride, as reliably and sustainably as ours," Schäfer says. High fluoride concentrations may cause tooth discolorations and severe skeletal deformities in children. It is also important to remove bacteria and viruses from the water. In many areas of Africa, diseases that actually can be treated well, such as diarrheal diseases, are often fatal especially for children due to malnutrition and lacking medical care. Supply with safe drinking water will play a key role for the future of the people in Africa.

The above story is based on materials provided by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Inhabitants of the village of Mdori in the region of Manyara taste the freshly filtered water. Photo Credit: Andrea Schäfer

 New device allows brain to bypass spinal cord, move paralysed limbs

June 25, 2014 – For the first time ever, a paralysed man can move his fingers and hand with his own thoughts thanks to an innovative partnership between The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Battelle. Ian Burkhart, a 23-year-old quadriplegic from Dublin, Ohio, is the first patient to use Neurobridge, an electronic neural bypass for spinal cord injuries that reconnects the brain directly to muscles, allowing voluntary and functional control of a paralyzed limb. Burkhart is the first of a potential five participants in a clinical study.

"It's much like a heart bypass, but instead of bypassing blood, we're actually bypassing electrical signals," said Chad Bouton, research leader at Battelle. "We're taking those signals from the brain, going around the injury, and actually going directly to the muscles."

The Neurobridge technology combines algorithms that learn and decode the user's brain activity and a high-definition muscle stimulation sleeve that translates neural impulses from the brain and transmits new signals to the paralyzed limb. In this case, Ian's brain signals bypass his injured spinal cord and move his hand, hence the name Neurobridge.

Burkhart, who was paralyzed four years ago during a diving accident, viewed the opportunity to participate in the six-month, FDA-approved clinical trial at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center as a chance to help others with spinal cord injuries.

"Initially, it piqued my interested because I like science, and it's pretty interesting," Burkhart said. "I've realized, 'You know what? This is the way it is. You're going to have to make the best out of it.' You can sit and complain about it, but that's not going to help you at all. So, you might as well work hard, do what you can and keep going on with life."

This technology has been a long time in the making. Working on the internally-funded project for nearly a decade to develop the algorithms, software and stimulation sleeve, Battelle scientists first recorded neural impulses from an electrode array implanted in a paralyzed person's brain. They used that data to illustrate the device's effect on the patient and prove the concept.

Two years ago, Bouton and his team began collaborating with Ohio State neuroscience researchers and clinicians Dr. Ali Rezai and Dr. Jerry Mysiwto design the clinical trials and validate the feasibility of using the Neurobridge technology in patients.

During a three-hour surgery on April 22, Rezai implanted a chip smaller than a pea onto the motor cortex of Burkhart's brain. The tiny chip interprets brain signals and sends them to a computer, which recodes and sends them to the high-definition electrode stimulation sleeve that stimulates the proper muscles to execute his desired movements. Within a tenth of a second, Burkhart's thoughts are translated into action.

"The surgery required the precise implantation of the micro-chip sensor in the area of Ian's brain that controls his arm and hand movements," Rezai said.

He said this technology may one day help patients affected by various brain and spinal cord injuries such as strokes and traumatic brain injury.

Battelle also developed a non-invasive neurostimulation technology in the form of a wearable sleeve that allows for precise activation of small muscle segments in the arm to enable individual finger movement, along with software that forms a 'virtual spinal cord' to allow for coordination of dynamic hand and wrist movements.

The Ohio State and Battelle teams worked together to figure out the correct sequence of electrodes to stimulate to allow Burkhart to move his fingers and hand functionally. For example, Burkhart uses different brain signals and muscles to rotate his hand, make a fist or pinch his fingers together to grasp an object, Mysiw said. As part of the study, Burkhart worked for months using the electrode sleeve to stimulate his forearm to rebuild his atrophied muscles so they would be more responsive to the electric stimulation.

"I've been doing rehabilitation for a lot of years, and this is a tremendous stride forward in what we can offer these people," said Mysiw, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Ohio State. "Now we're examining human-machine interfaces and interactions, and how that type of technology can help."

Burkhart is hopeful for his future.

"It's definitely great for me to be as young as I am when I was injured because the advancements in science and technology are growing rapidly and they're only going to continue to increase."

The above story is based on materials provided by Ohio State University, Wexner Medical Center.

Health papers published this week:

Nutritional sports supplements sold in Australia test positive for banned androgens

June 23, 2014 – Some nutritional sports supplements marketed to athletes - claiming to help them build lean muscle, reduce body fat and enhance endurance - are secretly fortified with androgens, which are banned from use in sports, a new study from Australia finds. The results will be presented in a poster Sunday, June 22, at ICE/ENDO 2014, the joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society in Chicago.

"The point is that 'you can't judge a book by its cover.' The nutritional supplement label may not disclose all ingredients, and sometimes these additions are not declared on the product label. Athletes risk testing positive for a banned substance and the general public risks being inadvertently exposed to androgens, which have recognized health risks," said principal investigator Alison Heather, PhD, professor in the Department of Physiology of the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

"The presence of androgens in the supplements is concerning, given that the products do not declare their addition. We need to investigate further just what the androgens in these supplements are so we can better understand the implications for health and sports doping," she said.

The worldwide dietary supplement market is worth an estimated $142.1 billion and by 2017 is expected to reach $204.8 billion, and most androgen-containing supplements state their contents on the label. Yet, the scientific literature contains reports of unlabeled androgen-containing supplements, and lacking good manufacturing practice and regulation, companies can covertly add androgens to their nutritional supplements to better satisfy their advertised claims.

To investigate the availability of unlisted androgens in over-the-counter nutritional sports supplements, Professor Heather and her co-authors purchased 79 nutritional supplements randomly from Sydney-based stores, including protein powders, amino acids, creatines, fat metabolizers, "testosterone-boosters," carbohydrates and stimulant/nitric oxide "pre-workout"-based supplements.

Of the 74 samples they tested by bioassay, 6 were androgen-positive but did not list them on the label, and 1 was positive but listed an androgen on the label.

Professor Heather cautioned that, although only 10% of their supplements tested positive for androgens, the nutritional sports supplement industry is not very transparent about revealing all the ingredients in their products. She recommended more stringent legislation to enable the public to be fully aware of what they are putting into their bodies.

The above story is based on materials provided by Endocrine Society.

Young women with polycystic ovary syndrome are 5 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes

June 24, 2014 – A leading expert on reproductive health says young women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) have a startlingly higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even if young and not overweight. The research led by Professor Helena Teede and Dr Anju Joham, from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University analysed a large-scale epidemiological study, called the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women's Health, which revealed the findings.

Over 6000 women aged between 25-28 years were monitored for nine years, including 500 with diagnosed PCOS. The incidence and prevalence of type 2 diabetes was three to five times higher in women with PCOS. Crucially, obesity, a key trigger for type 2 diabetes, was not an important trigger in women with PCOS.

Professor Teede said the findings have significant implications for diabetes screening, as well as for the care of women with PCOS.

"Type 2 diabetes itself is preventable, as are diabetes complications, but only if people at risk of or who have diabetes are screened, aware and take preventative action," Professor Teede said.

"With the dramatic rise in diabetes, this research highlights the need for greater awareness and screening, especially in high risk groups including young women with PCOS."

The women studied were aged 25-28 in 2003 and were followed over 9 years until age 34 to 37 years in 2012.

Professor Teede said these are the peak reproductive years when undiagnosed diabetes could have significant risks for mothers and babies.

"Our research found that there is a clear link between PCOS and diabetes. However, PCOS is not a well-recognised diabetes risk factor and many young women with the condition don't get regular diabetes screening even pre pregnancy, despite recommendations from the Australian PCOS evidence based guidelines." She said.

"Currently diabetes screening guidelines recommend screening over 40 years of age. This may need to be reconsidered in women with PCOS. We clearly need more research in PCOS, with better screening, prevention and treatments."

Affecting around 1 in 5 women, the study also shows that many women with PCOS remain undiagnosed with what is the most common hormonal disorder in women. Symptoms can include irregular periods, weight gain, excessive facial hair and acne. PCOS is commonly managed with regular screening and prevention strategies, alongside lifestyle changes and medication.

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

Battle of the bulge occurs in the liver

June 23, 2014 - An international team of scientists led by Monash University researchers has shown how free radicals contribute to type 2 diabetes, obesity and fatty liver disease.

Type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are key complications of obesity as 80 per cent of patients with type 2 diabetes are obese, and 75 per cent of patients who are obese or have type 2 diabetes also have fatty liver disease.

The team, led by Professor Tony Tiganis from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Monash, has found that free radical molecules called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) wage a battle with enzymes called protein tyrosine phosphatases, initiating a cascade of events with devastating consequences.

The findings, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, explain how selective insulin resistance - a pathological feature of type 2 diabetes - occurs in the liver. The study identifies the molecular culprits involved, and reveals how they contribute to disease progression.

"We have shown for the very first time that these free radicals inactivate protein tyrosine phosphatases in the liver to activate rogue pathways that promote fatty liver disease and exacerbate the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes," Professor Tiganis said.

Professor Tiganis' team found in lab studies that obesity promoted ROS generation that inactivated a phosphatase called PTPN2. This inactivation in turn exacerbated obesity and fatty liver disease progression.

While there is more work to be done to understand the causes of fatty liver disease, Professor Tiganis has plans to test two potential therapeutic approaches. One involves inactivating a protein in the liver, and the other will use a selective anti-oxidant to 'mop up' excess free radicals that would otherwise inactivate PTPN2.

While free radicals play important roles in disease, Professor Tiganis advises against taking anti-oxidants indiscriminately.

"Although we need to undertake further studies in humans, preclinical studies indicate that ROS also play important roles in biology," he said.

Esteban N. Gurzov, Melanie Tran, Manuel A. Fernandez-Rojo, Troy L. Merry, Xinmei Zhang, Yang Xu, Atsushi Fukushima, Michael J. Waters, Matthew J. Watt, Sofianos Andrikopoulos, Benjamin G. Neel, Tony Tiganis. Hepatic Oxidative Stress Promotes Insulin-STAT-5 Signaling and Obesity by Inactivating Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase N2. Cell Metabolism, 2014; DOI:10.1016/j.cmet.2014.05.011

Sharpening a test for tracing food-borne illness to source

June 23, 2014 – Research from the University of Melbourne, Australia, could make it easier for public health investigators to determine if a case of food poisoning is an isolated incident or part of a larger outbreak. The findings are published ahead of print in the Journal of Bacteriology. The study focuses on a test called multi-locus variable number tandem repeats variable analysis (MLVA). The test, which is increasingly used in the detection and investigation of foodborne outbreaks, analyzes specific sequences of DNA (called loci) that change rapidly enough over time to distinguish outbreak strains from other circulating strains of the bacteria but not so rapidly that connections could be masked by changes arising during the course of an outbreak.

However, the rates at which MLVA profiles change have not been directly investigated for Salmonella, and thus it is sometimes unclear how these profiles should be interpreted in the context of outbreak detection and investigation.

In the study, the investigators grew an isolate ofSalmonella Typhimurium from an Australian food poisoning outbreak, and observed changes in its MLVA profile during more than 28,000 generations of growth in the laboratory. Then, using the same bacterial lineage, they observed changes in MLVA profile during 500 days of growth in mice.

They estimated the rates of copy number change at each of the five loci that are commonly used for S. Typhimurium MLVA. Three of the loci saw changes in the DNA, but two did not. Based on these results, the researchers are recommending that isolates with zero or one variation in the three rapidly changing loci but no differences in the other two should be considered part of the same cluster.

They also noted that the relative rates of change among the loci were the same in the Petri dish studies and in the mouse study.

"This tells us we don't need to worry about where the bacteria were isolated from - humans or food," says Kathryn Holt, an author on the study.

MLVA is used for investigations of food-borne illnesses besides Salmonella, including Listeria, and E. coli. It is the primary method for investigations of Salmonella outbreaks in Europe, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere, says Holt.

"In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses another technique called PFGE for initial investigations and follows that with MLVA," she says.

Kathryn Holt et al. Analysis of Salmonella Typhimurium variable number tandem repeat (VNTR) data for public health investigation based on measured mutation rates and whole-genome sequence comparisons.Journal of Bacteriology, June 2014 DOI: 10.1128/JB.01820-14

Schizophrenia and cannabis use may share common genes

June 24, 2014 - Genes that increase the risk of developing schizophrenia may also increase the likelihood of using cannabis, according to a new study led by King's College London, published today in Molecular Psychiatry.

Previous studies have identified a link between cannabis use and schizophrenia, but it has remained unclear whether this association is due to cannabis directly increasing the risk of the disorder.

The new results suggest that part of this association is due to common genes, but do not rule out a causal relationship between cannabis use and schizophrenia risk.

Mr Robert Power, lead author from the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's, says: "Studies have consistently shown a link between cannabis use and schizophrenia. We wanted to explore whether this is because of a direct cause and effect, or whether there may be shared genes which predispose individuals to both cannabis use and schizophrenia."

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the world, and its use is higher amongst people with schizophrenia than in the general population. Schizophrenia affects approximately 1 in 100 people and people who use cannabis are about twice as likely to develop the disorder. The most common symptoms of schizophrenia are delusions (false beliefs) and auditory hallucinations (hearing voices). Whilst the exact cause is unknown, a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors can make people more likely to develop the disorder.

Previous studies have identified a number of genetic risk variants associated with schizophrenia, each of these slightly increasing an individual's risk of developing the disorder.

The new study included 2,082 healthy individuals of whom 1,011 had used cannabis. Each individual's 'genetic risk profile' was measured - that is, the number of genes related to schizophrenia each individual carried.

The researchers found that people genetically pre-disposed to schizophrenia were more likely to use cannabis, and use it in greater quantities than those who did not possess schizophrenia risk genes.

Power says: "We know that cannabis increases the risk of schizophrenia. Our study certainly does not rule this out, but it suggests that there is likely to be an association in the other direction as well - that a pre-disposition to schizophrenia also increases your likelihood of cannabis use."

"Our study highlights the complex interactions between genes and environments when we talk about cannabis as a risk factor for schizophrenia. Certain environmental risks, such as cannabis use, may be more likely given an individual's innate behaviour and personality, itself influenced by their genetic make-up. This is an important finding to consider when calculating the economic and health impact of cannabis."

The study is a collaboration between King's and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia, partly funded by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC). Additional funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health, Australian National health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, GenomEUtwin Project, Centre for Research Excellence on Suicide Prevention in Australia, the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR BRC) at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development.

R A Power, K J H Verweij, M Zuhair, G W Montgomery, A K Henders, A C Heath, P A F Madden, S E Medland, N R Wray, N G Martin. Genetic predisposition to schizophrenia associated with increased use of cannabis. Molecular Psychiatry, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/mp.2014.51

First demonstration of a self-powered cardiac pacemaker

June 23, 2014 - A research team from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), headed by Professor Keon Jae Lee of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at KAIST and Professor Boyoung Joung, M.D. of the Division of Cardiology at Severance Hospital of Yonsei University, has developed a self-powered artificial cardiac pacemaker that is operated semi-permanently by a flexible piezoelectric nanogenerator.

The artificial cardiac pacemaker is widely acknowledged as medical equipment that is integrated into the human body to regulate the heartbeats through electrical stimulation to contract the cardiac muscles of people who suffer from arrhythmia. However, repeated surgeries to replace pacemaker batteries have exposed elderly patients to health risks such as infections or severe bleeding during operations.

The team's newly designed flexible piezoelectric nanogenerator directly stimulated a living rat's heart using electrical energy converted from the small body movements of the rat. This technology could facilitate the use of self-powered flexible energy harvesters, not only prolonging the lifetime of cardiac pacemakers but also realizing real-time heart monitoring.

The research team fabricated high-performance flexible nanogenerators utilizing a bulk single-crystal PMN-PT thin film (iBULe Photonics). The harvested energy reached up to 8.2 V and 0.22 mA by bending and pushing motions, which were high enough values to directly stimulate the rat's heart.

Professor Keon Jae Lee said:

"For clinical purposes, the current achievement will benefit the development of self-powered cardiac pacemakers as well as prevent heart attacks via the real-time diagnosis of heart arrhythmia. In addition, the flexible piezoelectric nanogenerator could also be utilized as an electrical source for various implantable medical devices."

Geon-Tae Hwang, Hyewon Park, Jeong-Ho Lee, SeKwon Oh, Kwi-Il Park, Myunghwan Byun, Hyelim Park, Gun Ahn, Chang Kyu Jeong, Kwangsoo No, HyukSang Kwon, Sang-Goo Lee, Boyoung Joung, Keon Jae Lee. Self-Powered Cardiac Pacemaker Enabled by Flexible Single Crystalline PMN-PT Piezoelectric Energy Harvester. Advanced Materials, 2014; DOI:10.1002/adma.201400562

Association found between maternal exposure to agricultural pesticides and autism

June 23, 2014 - Pregnant women who lived in close proximity to fields and farms where chemical pesticides were applied experienced a two-thirds increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental delay, a study by researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute has found. The associations were stronger when the exposures occurred during the second and third trimesters of the women's pregnancies.

The large, multisite California-based study examined associations between specific classes of pesticides, including organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates, applied during the study participants' pregnancies and later diagnoses of autism and developmental delay in their offspring. It is published online in Environmental Health Perspectives.

"This study validates the results of earlier research that has reported associations between having a child with autism and prenatal exposure to agricultural chemicals in California," said lead study author Janie F. Shelton, a UC Davis graduate student who now consults with the United Nations. "While we still must investigate whether certain sub-groups are more vulnerable to exposures to these compounds than others, the message is very clear: Women who are pregnant should take special care to avoid contact with agricultural chemicals whenever possible."

California is the top agricultural producing state in the nation, grossing $38 billion in revenue from farm crops in 2010. Statewide, approximately 200 million pounds of active pesticides are applied each year, most of it in the Central Valley, north to the Sacramento Valley and south to the Imperial Valley on the California-Mexico border. While pesticides are critical for the modern agriculture industry, certain commonly used pesticides are neurotoxic and may pose threats to brain development during gestation, potentially resulting in developmental delay or autism.

The study was conducted by examining commercial pesticide application using the California Pesticide Use Report and linking the data to the residential addresses of approximately 1,000 participants in the Northern California-based Childhood Risk of Autism from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study. The study includes families with children between 2 and 5 diagnosed with autism or developmental delay or with typical development. It is led by principal investigator Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a MIND Institute researcher and professor and vice chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at UC Davis. The majority of study participants live in the Sacramento Valley, Central Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Twenty-one chemical compounds were identified in the organophosphate class, including chlorpyrifos, acephate and diazinon. The second most commonly applied class of pesticides was pyrethroids, one quarter of which was esfenvalerate, followed by lambda-cyhalothrin permethrin, cypermethrin and tau-fluvalinate. Eighty percent of the carbamates were methomyl and carbaryl.

For the study, researchers used questionnaires to obtain study participants' residential addresses during the pre-conception and pregnancy periods. The addresses then were overlaid on maps with the locations of agricultural chemical application sites based on the pesticide-use reports to determine residential proximity. The study also examined which participants were exposed to which agricultural chemicals.

"We mapped where our study participants' lived during pregnancy and around the time of birth. In California, pesticide applicators must report what they're applying, where they're applying it, dates when the applications were made and how much was applied," Hertz-Picciotto said. "What we saw were several classes of pesticides more commonly applied near residences of mothers whose children developed autism or had delayed cognitive or other skills."

The researchers found that during the study period approximately one-third of CHARGE Study participants lived in close proximity - within 1.25 to 1.75 kilometers - of commercial pesticide application sites. Some associations were greater among mothers living closer to application sites and lower as residential proximity to the application sites decreased, the researchers found.

Organophosphates applied over the course of pregnancy were associated with an elevated risk of autism spectrum disorder, particularly for chlorpyrifos applications in the second trimester. Pyrethroids were moderately associated with autism spectrum disorder immediately prior to conception and in the third trimester. Carbamates applied during pregnancy were associated with developmental delay.

Exposures to insecticides for those living near agricultural areas may be problematic, especially during gestation, because the developing fetal brain may be more vulnerable than it is in adults. Because these pesticides are neurotoxic, in utero exposures during early development may distort the complex processes of structural development and neuronal signaling, producing alterations to the excitation and inhibition mechanisms that govern mood, learning, social interactions and behavior.

"In that early developmental gestational period, the brain is developing synapses, the spaces between neurons, where electrical impulses are turned into neurotransmitting chemicals that leap from one neuron to another to pass messages along. The formation of these junctions is really important and may well be where these pesticides are operating and affecting neurotransmission," Hertz-Picciotto said.

Research from the CHARGE Study has emphasized the importance of maternal nutrition during pregnancy, particularly the use of prenatal vitamins to reduce the risk of having a child with autism. While it's impossible to entirely eliminate risks due to environmental exposures, Hertz-Picciotto said that finding ways to reduce exposures to chemical pesticides, particularly for the very young, is important.

"We need to open up a dialogue about how this can be done, at both a societal and individual level," she said. "If it were my family, I wouldn't want to live close to where heavy pesticides are being applied."

Janie F. Shelton, Estella Marie Geraghty, Daniel J. Tancredi, Lora D. Delwiche, Rebecca J. Schmidt, Beate Ritz, Robin L. Hansen, Irva Hertz-Picciotto.Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Prenatal Residential Proximity to Agricultural Pesticides: The CHARGE Study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2014; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1307044

Colon has safety mechanism that restricts tumor formation

June 23, 2014 - Colon cancer development starts with the formation of benign tumours called adenomas. It is estimated that between 30% and 50% of people over 50 will develop one of these tumours. These adenomas or polyps are the pre-cancerous lesions that, once they accumulate further genetic mutations over many years, can progress to colon cancer. A team headed by scientists at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and headed by the ICREA researcher Eduard Batlle has discovered that the colon has a safety mechanism to restrict the formation and growth of adenomas. The study was published in the advanced online edition of the journal Nature Cell Biology and will be the cover of the July issue.

The scientists have observed that the formation of an adenoma in the colon is accompanied by an increase in the production of a molecule called BMP (bone morphogenetic protein). The study explains that BMP limits the self-renewal capacity of adenoma stem cells, thus impeding the rapid development of the lesion. "Colon epithelial cells respond to the presence of these tumours and attempt to suppress them or at least control them through the BMP pathway. Without this safety circuit, we would have many more polyps showing rapid growth. Colon cancer is a disease that develops slowly and this slowness may be caused by this safety mechanism," says Eduard Batlle, head of the Colorectal Cancer Laboratory at IRB Barcelona whose research interests include the study of how colon cancers arise and how they become malignant.

Do we all have the same capacity to deal with polyps?

One hypothesis that has arisen from the study is that we are not equally protected and that there are genetic variations in the population that determine that some people have more robust safety mechanisms to respond to polyp formation than others.

This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the scientists have identified a genomic region through which BMP protein production is controlled, that is to say, the specific site that regulates the safety circuit triggered when adenomas are detected. It is the same site that holds certain genomic variations in the population that are associated with susceptibility to colon cancer. These genomic variations have been revealed by studies in the population and by analysis of the genomes of colon cancer patients that are available in data bases such as that of the 1000 Genomes Project Data.

"We provide a plausible explanation of why certain genomic variations (called snip - SNP-) are associated with a greater risk of colon cancer and we believe it is because these variations affect this safety system that protects us from adenomas," explain the scientists.

"This basic study will allow more defined research into the genomic variations associated with colon cancer that are in the region where BMP is regulated." A better understanding of the mechanism that accelerates or restricts the development of cancer may allow, for example, the discovery of new biomarkers to better identify the population at greatest risk of colon cancer and even the current degree of risk.

Colon cancer is one of the four most prevalent cancers, together with breast, prostate and lung cancer, and it has a global incidence of 1,600,000 cases per year with a mortality rate of 50%. The researchers highlight that if those over 50 underwent preventive tests such as colonoscopies then 80% of the deaths from this disease would be averted.

The study has involved the participation of groups from the "Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas," the "Hospital Clínico de Barcelona-IDIBAPS-UB," and the Centre for Genomic Regulation. Funding was provided by an ERC Grant from the European Research Council awarded to Eduard Batlle, from the Josep Steiner Foundation of Switzerland, and from the Spanish Ministry of the Economy and Competitiveness.

Gavin Whissell, Elisa Montagni, Paola Martinelli, Xavier Hernando-Momblona, Marta Sevillano, Peter Jung, Carme Cortina, Alexandre Calon, Anna Abuli, Antoni Castells, Sergi Castellvi-Bel, Ana Silvina Nacht, Elena Sancho, Camille Stephan-Otto Attolini, Guillermo P. Vicent, Francisco X. Real, Eduard Batlle. The transcription factor GATA6 enables self-renewal of colon adenoma stem cells by repressing BMP gene expression. Nature Cell Biology, 2014; DOI:10.1038/ncb2992

Conclusive evidence that sunscreen use in childhood prevents development of malignant melanoma in adults

Research conducted at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, published in the latest issue of the scientific journal Pigment Cell and Melanoma, has established unequivocally in a natural animal model that the incidence of malignant melanoma in adulthood can be dramatically reduced by the consistent use of sunscreen in infancy and childhood. According to senior author John L. VandeBerg, Ph.D., the research was driven by the fact that, despite the increasing use of sunscreen in recent decades, the incidence of malignant melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer, continues to increase dramatically. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 75,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.

"While sunscreen is highly effective in preventing sunburn, this paradox has led some to question whether sunscreen is effective in preventing melanoma caused by ultraviolet (UV) light," VandeBerg said. "It has been suggested that sunscreen enables people to receive more UV exposure without becoming sunburned, and that increased exposure to UV light has led to an increasing incidence of melanoma."

Questions regarding the effectiveness of sunscreen have remained unanswered in part because, until recently, no natural mammalian model of UV-induced melanoma has existed, noted VandeBerg. Scientists at Texas Biomedical Research Institute have established the gray short-tailed opossum, a small marsupial from South America, as such a model, and tested an over-the-counter facial lotion containing SPF15 sunscreen for its ability to prevent UV-induced melanoma.

The Texas Biomed researchers found that the application of lotion containing sunscreen to infant opossums led to a 10-fold reduction in pre-melanotic lesions (known to progress to melanoma), in comparison to infant opossums receiving lotion that did not contain sunscreen. This difference in the development of lesions occurred even when low doses of UV light were applied - so low that they caused no sunburn or even reddening of the skin in the opossums that did not receive sunscreen.

The pre-melanotic lesions did not appear until the infants had become adolescents (equivalent to early teenagers in humans), and prior experiments established that the pre-melanocytic lesions in opossums do not progress to melanomas until the animals are well into adulthood, as typically occurs in humans.

"Based on these results, we speculate that the reason it is particularly important that sunscreens be used consistently in childhood, and especially in infancy, is because skin cells during growth are dividing much more rapidly than in adulthood, and it is during cell division that the cells are most susceptible to UV-induced damage," said VandeBerg. "Evidence that supports this hypothesis is that melanoma is not induced in adult opossums when their shaved skin is irradiated by UV light in the absence of sunscreen."

The above story is based on materials provided by Texas Biomedical Research Institute. 

Cell stress inflames the gut, research shows

June 23, 2014 - Over 3.5 million people in Europe and the US suffer from Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis - the two most common forms of IBD. Chronic bowel inflammation is caused by an overreaction of the immune system to the bacteria which naturally occur in the gut. "This overreaction can come about if, for example, the anti-stress mechanism in the cells of the intestinal mucosa does not function correctly," explains Prof. Dirk Haller of the TUM Chair of Nutrition and Immunology.

What Prof. Haller is referring to is the unfolded protein response (UPR) - a sequential chain of signals in the cell, the role of which is to protect the cells against stress. "The UPR is a kind of cell repair mechanism that kicks in when proteins are not properly folded when they are produced - a major cause of cell stress," Haller continues. Any disturbance of the signaling cascade can lead to inflammation and cell death. This damages the cells of the intestinal mucosa, a pre-condition for the development of IBD.

The C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP) plays a major role in activating the UPR. It seems, however, that the CHOP is also involved in the inflammatory process. The research team decided to take a closer look at the CHOP protein. Using a new mouse model, the scientists examined the role of the protein in the development of chronic bowel inflammation. They modified the DNA so that the intestinal epithelial cells of the mice produced larger amounts of the protein.

Damaged cells recover at a slower rate

The higher CHOP protein count made the mice more susceptible to intestinal inflammation. In addition, the inflammation was slower to abate and the intestinal mucosa subsequently required more time to regenerate. "But contrary to what was previously assumed, the higher CHOP concentration is not actually what causes the epithelial cells to die," Haller explains. "Rather, the CHOP proteins inhibit cell division, thus slowing the regeneration of the mucosa following injury."

Such injuries, which can be caused by an infection, are often the first step to chronic inflammation of the bowel. The researchers' findings provide further confirmation that a properly functioning UPR signaling cascade is an essential condition for healthy intestinal mucosa. Regulatory disturbance can seriously impair the protective function of the intestinal epithelium and play a role in the development of chronic intestinal inflammation.

N Waldschmitt, E Berger, E Rath, R B Sartor, B Weigmann, M Heikenwalder, M Gerhard, K-P Janssen, D Haller. C/EBP homologous protein inhibits tissue repair in response to gut injury and is inversely regulated with chronic inflammation.Mucosal Immunology, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/mi.2014.34

Hormone-disrupting activity of fracking chemicals worse than initially found

June 23, 2014 - Many chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, can disrupt not only the human body's reproductive hormones but also the glucocorticoid and thyroid hormone receptors, which are necessary to maintain good health, a new study finds. The results were presented Monday at the joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society: ICE/ENDO 2014 in Chicago.

"Among the chemicals that the fracking industry has reported using most often, all 24 that we have tested block the activity of one or more important hormone receptors," said the study's presenting author, Christopher Kassotis, a PhD student at the University of Missouri, Columbia. "The high levels of hormone disruption by endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that we measured, have been associated with many poor health outcomes, such as infertility, cancer and birth defects."

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting numerous chemicals and millions of gallons of water deep underground under high pressure to fracture hard rock and release trapped natural gas and oil. Kassotis said spills of wastewater could contaminate surface and ground water.

In earlier research, this group found that water samples collected from sites with documented fracking spills in Garfield County, Colorado, had moderate to high levels of EDC activity that mimicked or blocked the effects of the female hormones (estrogens) and the male hormones (androgens) in human cells. However, water in areas away from these gas-drilling sites showed little EDC activity on these two reproductive hormones.

The new study extended the analysis to learn whether high-use fracking chemicals changed other key hormone receptors besides the estrogen and androgen receptors. (Receptors are proteins in cells that the hormone binds to in order to perform its function.) Specifically, the researchers also looked at the receptor for a female reproductive hormone, progesterone, as well as those for glucocorticoid - a hormone important to the immune system, which also plays a role in reproduction and fertility - and for thyroid hormone. The latter hormone helps control metabolism, normal brain development and other functions needed for good health.

Among 24 common fracking chemicals that Kassotis and his colleagues repeatedly tested for EDC activity in human cells, 20 blocked the estrogen receptor, preventing estrogen from binding to the receptor and being able to have its natural biological response, he reported. In addition, 17 chemicals inhibited the androgen receptor, 10 hindered the progesterone receptor, 10 blocked the glucocorticoid receptor and 7 inhibited the thyroid hormone receptor.

Kassotis cautioned that they have not measured these chemicals in local water samples, and it is likely that the high chemical concentrations tested would not show up in drinking water near drilling. However, he said mixtures of these chemicals act together to make their hormone-disrupting effects worse than any one chemical alone, and tested drinking water normally contains mixtures of EDCs.

"We don't know what the adverse health consequences might be in humans and animals exposed to these chemicals," Kassotis said, "but infants and children would be most vulnerable because they are smaller, and infants lack the ability to break down these chemicals."

This study received funding from the Passport Foundation Science Innovation Fund, the University of Missouri, and from the Environmental Protection Agency, through a STAR predoctoral fellowship awarded to Kassotis.

The above story is based on materials provided by Endocrine Society

BPA stimulates growth of an advanced subtype of human breast cancer cells called inflammatory breast cancer

June 23, 2014 - Environmental exposure to the industrial chemical bisphenol A (BPA) lowers the effectiveness of a targeted anti-cancer drug for inflammatory breast cancer, according to a new study that was performed in human cancer cells. The results, which were presented Sunday at the joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society: ICE/ENDO 2014 in Chicago, also show that BPA causes breast cancer cells to grow faster.

"Routine exposures to common environmental chemicals like BPA appear to contribute to breast cancer cell progression and to diminish drug treatment efficacy, particularly in inflammatory breast cancer," said principal investigator Gayathri Devi, PhD, associate professor, Department of Surgery, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.

Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer with one of the worst survival outcomes due to high rate of treatment failure.

"Not everyone with inflammatory breast cancer responds to treatment, and environmental factors are one of many factors thought to explain why," Devi said.

Other studies have pointed to increased cancer risk with exposure to BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical found in many consumer products, including hard plastics. However, Dr. Devi said, "This to the best of our knowledge is the first study to show BPA's effects in altering effectiveness of a targeted drug treatment approved for use in breast cancer patients including those with inflammatory breast cancer."

This study is a collaboration between Duke University, the Environmental Protection Agency, NC (EPA) and the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE) at North Carolina Central University. The EPA's library of chemicals called Toxicity Forecaster or ToxCast, a panel of approximately 300 environmental compounds was used in a newly developed automated screening technology for assessing cancer cell behavior parameters. These "high-content, high throughput screening" assays expose living cells to various doses of chemicals and allow for studying of changes in cell growth and survival.

Devi and colleagues subjected cancer cells isolated from the tumors of patients with inflammatory breast cancer to BPA and other common environmental contaminants in the ToxCast library. They tested a wide range of BPA doses and periods of exposure time including the range observed in human blood samples and from environmental exposures in past, published studies. The researchers then analyzed the cellular changes in culture and compared them with cancerous cells not exposed to BPA.

Although BPA is known to mimic estrogen, it also affected inflammatory breast cancer, which are frequently estrogen receptor-negative, meaning they do not respond to estrogen. BPA exposure caused breast cancer cells to grow faster than untreated cancer cells regardless of whether the cancer was estrogen receptor-positive or -negative, the investigators found.

In addition, this study reported that BPA lowered the effectiveness of an approved cancer-fighting drug, lapatinib, used in breast cancer therapy. Other FDA approved anti-cancer drugs are currently being tested by this team. Devi said the results may have immediate implications in cancer treatment. "Cancer patients must understand there's a component in their daily lives that could influence their treatment outcome. These studies provide the foundation for additional research to develop tools that can be used to identify patients who may be at greater risk of developing treatment resistance. Further, the findings could also lead to biomarkers that identify patients who have heavy exposure to chemicals that could diminish the effectiveness of their cancer therapy." Dr. Devi stated. Scott Sauer, a research fellow in the Devi Laboratory in Duke's Department of Surgery, will present the research.

The above story is based on materials provided by Endocrine Society.

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.