Inbox and Environment News - Issue 171

 July 13 - 19, 2014: Issue 171

Full brunt of Medicare co-payment revealed - 7 July 2014

The Federal government's proposal to introduce co-payments for services provided by GPs, pathology and imaging providers, together with a proposed increase in co-payments for medications will mostly affect vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with chronic conditions, a new University of Sydney study reveals.

Published today, the study findings back concerns by medical and consumer groups that medical co-payments could deter vulnerable groups from seeking prompt medical care, and impair their ability to pay for services.

"The introduction of co-payments won't be shared equally," says the report's co-author, Dr Clare Bayram.

"It will particularly affect people who need to use more medical and related services, such as older people and those with chronic health conditions.

"The proposed co-payments regime is likely to deter the most vulnerable in the community from seeking care due to higher costs that they would face."

The new study findings are based on national data captured in the year to March 2014.

The data are sourced from a continuous random survey of general practitioners' records of GP‐patient encounters.

Examples of the average annual additional cost to patients of introducing co-payments for services provided by GPs, pathology and imaging providers and increasing medication co-payments are listed below. These are conservative estimates.

• A young family (2 children aged <16 years, 2 parents 25‐44 years) would pay an additional $184 more per year on average.

• A self‐funded retired couple (aged 65+ years, no Commonwealth concession cards) would pay an additional $244 per year on average.

• An older couple (aged 65+ years, pensioners with concession cards) would pay an additional $199 per year on average.

• An average patient at a consultation who has Type 2 Diabetes would pay an additional $120 per year. One-quarter of these people would pay an additional $150 or more per year.

Federal government health data from 2011-12 shows that up to 13 per cent of people in some parts of the community delay GP care or do not seek it due to cost issues, and that this barrier is most marked among disadvantaged groups.

Furthermore, increased costs for medications due to the proposed increase in medication co-payments are likely to increase the proportion of people not filling necessary prescriptions.

Federal government health data from 2012-13 shows that 8.5 per cent of people reported that cost was a barrier to filling a prescription. This was higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and for patients in the most socio‐economic disadvantaged areas.

Study (PDF – 215 kb) at

 Vortex - Bungan Beach by NicOkeefe - Published on 28 Jun 2014

 Joseph E Stiglitz - The GFC: Where are we now and what can be done about it? - Streamed live on 7 Jul 2014

Full presentation and audience Q&A. A rare opportunity to hear Nobel Laureate, Joseph E. Stiglitz at UNSW. 

Visiting from Columbia University, Professor Stiglitz presented a lecture at UNSW on the Global Financial Crisis and its impact on the future of the world economy. 

Professor Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia University in New York, where he is a member and former chair of its Committee on Global Thought. A former Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank, he also chairs the University of Manchester's Brooks World Poverty Institute. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001. In 2011 he was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. 

Professor Stiglitz is in Australia as a guest of the Economic Society of Australia, sponsored by The Crawford School of Public Policy at the ANU.

 International collaboration to drive research into piracy - 8 July 2014 – University of Western Sydney

An international collaboration has been established to critically examine the growing cultural phenomenon of piracy, from the seas off Somalia to Australians illegally downloading music and programs such as the hit HBO show Game of Thrones.

The Piracy Lab is a new online network investigating how acts of piracy raise significant questions regarding property rights and contemporary capital flows in the globalised world.

Co-founder Professor James Arvanitakis, from the UWS Institute for Culture and Society, says much of the current research is industry funded, whereas the Piracy Lab will take an independent look at how piracy impacts individuals and companies.

“Most piracy research focuses on the loss of revenue for distributors, yet often ignores the fact companies themselves take advantage of piracy data to gain insights into consumer behaviour and the way informal economies emerge,” says Professor Arvanitakis.

“For example, shoe manufacturers are known to keep tabs on the popularity of counterfeit sneakers to gauge demand for new products, and when their designs are not being replicated corporate representatives have been known to visit warehouses for insights into their products.”

“Microsoft Founder Bill Gates event took advantage of piracy by turning a blind eye to the counterfeit production of Microsoft products in China in the 1990s to ensure Windows became the platform of choice.”

Professor Arvanitakis says illegal downloads are a good example of how the debate around piracy is more than just an economic issue involving lost revenue.

“Whenever a new distribution channel emerges there’s an accompanying moral panic as the market fragments,” he says.

“At the start of the last century it was claimed radio would end the record industry, and when VCRs were introduced the movie industry claimed they would go bankrupt.

“In fact, 100 years before that, the copying of sheet music for pianos created a panic that all original music would no longer be appealing!”

Professor Arvanitakis says new technology helps artists reach new audiences.

“Internet piracy has led to an industry backlash while also driving innovations, such as legal movie downloads and new television episodes delivered direct from the US to Australia,” says Professor Arvanitakis.

“There’s even evidence that illegally downloaded content may have an impact on short term sales, but drives people to become long term consumers who change their behaviour to ultimately pay for content.”

The launch of Piracy Lab is accompanied by a new book coedited by Professor Arvanitakis and accomplished Swedish academic, Dr Martin Fredriksson entitled Piracy: Leakages from Modernity .

“From Somalia to the Internet, piracy is happening, and we need to understand why – because it provides insights into market and social failures, as well as alternative exchange economies,” says Professor Arvanitakis.

Working towards rollout of 20 Million Trees 

Media release, 4 July 2014, The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment

Work towards the commencement of the 20 Million Trees Programme is continuing to progress and the Government is now seeking feedback from organisations who may wish to be involved in the rollout. 

The 20 Millions Trees Programme is a key Coalition election commitment and will see large-scale revegetation projects delivered across the country. 

Projects will include re-establishing green corridors and urban forests, increasing and improving habitat to support our threatened species, and creating greener spaces to improve the liveability of our cities and towns. 

The Australian Government has committed $50 million over four years to the 20 Million Trees Programme with funding to commence from 2014-15. It's an important part of the National Landcare Programme and will deliver real environmental benefits in local communities. 

20 Million Trees will be implemented through a combination of competitive grants to land managers and local community groups, and a tender process for larger-scale Service Providers. 

The Government is now inviting submissions from interested parties on how best to deliver large-scale tree planting in a way that best utilises industry expertise, knowledge and capacity to achieve environmental conservation outcomes and community engagement. 

Suitable Service Providers are encouraged to take this opportunity to make a difference to the environment by helping the Government to reach its target of planting 20 million trees by 2020. 

Submissions received through this Request for Information process will inform a subsequent Request for Tender (RFT) process that will invite potential delivery partners to apply to become a 20 Million Tree Service Provider. 

There will be opportunity for the community to be involved in consultation for the 20 Million Trees Programme as part of wider consultation for the National Landcare Programme in the coming months. 

For more information on 20 Million Trees, 

For more information on how to make a submission, 

What is the 20 Million Trees Programme?

The Australian Government will work with the community to plant 20 million trees by 2020, to re-establish green corridors and urban forests.

The Programme has four strategic objectives:

20 million trees – 20 million trees and associated understorey planted by 2020.

Environmental conservation – support local environmental outcomes by improving the extent, connectivity and condition of native vegetation that supports native species (including threatened species and threatened ecological communities)

Community engagement – work cooperatively with the community

Carbon reduction – contribute to Australia reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

The 20 Million Trees Programme is part of the National Landcare Programme(link is external), and will complement and align with other Australian Government environmental initiatives, such as the Green Army and the work of the Threatened Species Commissioner.

The Australian Government has committed $50 million over four years to the 20 Million Trees Programme, with funding to commence from 2014-15. The programme will involve competitive grants, delivered by individuals and organisations, and larger-scale plantings, delivered by national service providers.

How do I get involved?

Competitive Grants

Round One of the 20 Million Trees Programme will invite community groups, landholders and other land managers to apply for grant funding to establish native tree plantings in urban, peri-urban and regional environments across Australia. More information about how to apply for funding under the 20 Million Trees Programme Round One will be released in the coming months.

National Service Provider

The Programme will also involve larger-scale revegetation delivered by one or more service providers contracted by the Australian Government.

A Request for Information on the national service provider component is now open and will close on 31 July 2014.

Please refer to the AusTender website for the coversheet and Request for Information document.

Further information

Please email

 Whale successfully disentangled off Montague Island 

Media release: 8 July 2014

This morning the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) mobilised a whale disentanglement team and freed an adult humpback whale off Montague Island Nature Reserve.

NPWS Area Manager Preston Cope praised fishermen for reporting the entangled whale promptly.

“This humpback had fishing line, rope and two floats attached to its tail fluke. On our first disentanglement effort our pole snapped and our cutting knife also broke,” Mr Cope said.

“NPWS Rangers and Marine Park Rangers worked together to attach additional floats to the whale, both to help us track it and to slow the animal down.

“At 12.40pm today, after three further attempts to cut it free, the whale was successfully disentangled and was last seen swimming northward.

“Whale disentanglement operations are dangerous both for people and entangled marine animals and specialist NPWS crews are trained for these situations.

Please always dispose of ropes and fishing equipment thoughtfully and report any distressed marine mammals to NPWS on 1300 361 967 or to ORCCA, the voluntary Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia, on 9415 3333.

 Pittwater YHA's first hot water heated by the sun. New Solar Panels Installed.


 Rob Stokes MP; Minister for the Environment , Minister for Heritage , Minister for the Central Coast , Assistant Minister for Planning - MEDIA RELEASE - Thursday, July 10 

Environment Minister Rob Stokes today announced two rare Black Rhinoceros at Taronga Western Plains Zoo are pregnant.  

“The confirmed pregnancies are yet another success for the staff at Taronga Western Plains Zoo who work tirelessly for the conservation of this critically endangered species,” Rob Stokes said. 

It is early in the pregnancy for female Black Rhinoceros, Bakhita and Kalungwizi, who are both due to give birth around mid-2015. This will be the first time the Zoo has had two Black Rhinoceros calves due at a similar time.  

“Taronga Western Plains Zoo is a world-class open range zoo, and works closely with the International Rhino Foundation and with an international reputation in Black Rhinoceros breeding, research and conservation.”  

“The Zoo has been very successful in breeding Black Rhinoceros across the program’s 20 year history, producing 11 Black Rhinoceros calves to date supporting the survival of this critically endangered species,”.  

Poaching continues to be a major threat to the long-term survival of this species, with demand for rhinoceros horn surging across Asia. 

“In 2013 over 1000 Rhinoceros were killed in South Africa alone, the worst year in the past decade. The appetite for Rhinoceros horn isn’t slowing down with this year almost 500 Rhinoceros have been poached in South Africa already, every birth is critically important for this species.” 

“Zoos like Taronga Western Plains Zoo play an important role in ensuring Black Rhinos and other endangered species survive, by engaging people in efforts to protect these wonderful animals in the wild,” Troy Grant, Local Member for Dubbo said. 

The gestation period for Black Rhinoceros is 14 – 16 months and so far keepers and veterinarians at the Zoo are very happy with both females’ progress. Both rhinoceros have bred before, with Bakhita giving birth in 2010 and Kalungwizi being the Zoo’s most successful breeder. 

Taronga Western Plains Zoo is located in Dubbo in Central Western NSW. The Zoo is open daily from 9am – 4pm. For more information visit:  

 Water bonus flows from climate change measures

July 7, 2014 – The equivalent of one-third of Melbourne's water use could be saved each year through the implementation of efficiency measures that deal with climate change, according to a new study. Researchers at the Monash Sustainability Institute analyzed the water-saving potential of 74 options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions identified in ClimateWorks Australia's award-winning Low Carbon Growth Plan for Australia. The research was published in Springer's international journal Climatic Change.

Monash University Research Fellow Dr Philip Wallis said an analysis of options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions found energy efficiency measures reduced water consumption at the same time.

"As the Federal Government begins negotiations with the new Senate to repeal the carbon price, any technologies, policies or plans that aim to tackle climate change should take water usage into account, especially in arid countries like Australia," Dr Wallis said.

"Our research considered how water usage might influence the appeal of certain preferred options for mitigating climate change. At the top of the list were energy efficiency measures that were found to reduce water consumption at the same time."

The study found that, in particular, wind power, biogas, solar photovoltaics, energy efficiency and operational improvements to existing power sources could not only reduce greenhouse emissions but also offset the water used to cool thermal power generation.

"This could help save nearly 100 gigalitres of water in Australia annually by 2020 -- this is the equivalent of nearly a third of Melbourne's annual water use," Dr Wallis said.

Conversely, Dr Wallis said that wide-scale planting of trees to store carbon -- as is planned for in the Abbott Government's Direct Action Plan -- could potentially consume massive volumes of water.

"Planting can achieve other environmental goals, such as reducing erosion and salinity risk and potentially providing habitat. However, the Government would need to consider the scale and location of those measures very carefully," he said.

"Technologies and locations used for renewable energy should also take into account water constraints."

Philip J. Wallis, Michael B. Ward, Jamie Pittock, Karen Hussey, Howard Bamsey, Amandine Denis, Steven J. Kenway, Carey W. King, Shahbaz Mushtaq, Monique L. Retamal, Brian R. Spies. The water impacts of climate change mitigation measures.Climatic Change, 2014; 125 (2): 209 DOI: 10.1007/s10584-014-1156-6

 Interpretative dance coaxes bees into quick decisions on nest sites - 9 July 2014

Dr James Makinson evicts bees from their homes for a good reason—to figure out how they collectively decide on the next place to live. His research on bee communication and consensus-building has been published in this month's issue of Animal Behaviour.

James and his colleagues at the University of Sydney in partnership with two universities in Thailand have found that not all honeybee species think like the common Western hive bee when it comes to deciding on a place to nest.

Two little-known species—the giant Asian honeybee and the tiny red dwarf honeybee—use a more rapid collective decision-making process that enables them to choose a new home quickly. But they aren't as fussy when it comes to the quality of their new home.

It's work that could help with understanding and managing honeybees for pollination services, ecological heath, and pest control.

"We know a fair bit about the nesting behaviour of honeybees through the work already done on the Western hive bee—the common honeybee that produces honey for our morning toast," says James, a Postdoctoral Researcher in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney.

"When Western hive bees want to find a new place to nest, the queen along with a subset of the colony's workers set out as a swarm, which forms a temporary cluster in the vegetation close to their existing nest site. Then, from this cluster, scout bees take off and search for a specific nest location."

According to James, the scout bees will spend around 40 minutes evaluating a potential nest site before returning to the swarm and communicating the distance, direction and the quality of the site they've found, through the figure-of-eight movements of their distinctive 'waggle' dance.

The scout bees then head back and re-evaluate the site a number of times before eventually convincing the entire swarm to move to a very specific location.

But James and his colleagues have found that the giant Asian honeybee and the red dwarf honeybee aren't quite as fussy when it comes to deciding where to go.

"Both the giant Asian honeybee and red dwarf honeybee species come to a much more rapid decision," says James.

"We found that only during the final 15 minutes of the decision-making process do swarms reach a directional consensus on where to go, and that in some cases the scout bees' dances were still indicating different distances. We assume they figure out a specific nest location once the swarm is on the move in that direction."

From their observations, the team has developed computer models to help make sense of honeybee communication, which James says could also help inform new technologies in other areas.

"Hopefully in the near future, bee-inspired algorithms will be helping humanity solve complex problems and deal with big datasets."

James was an Australian national finalist of FameLab —a global science communication competition for early-career scientists. He was also the winner of the NSW state final.

 Changing Antarctic winds create new sea level threat

July 7, 2014 - New research shows projected changes in the winds circling the Antarctic may accelerate global sea level rise significantly more than previously estimated. Changes to Antarctic winds have already been linked to southern Australia's drying climate but now it appears they may also have a profound impact on warming ocean temperatures under the ice shelves along the coastline of West and East Antarctic.

"When we included projected Antarctic wind shifts in a detailed global ocean model, we found water up to 4°C warmer than current temperatures rose up to meet the base of the Antarctic ice shelves," said lead author Dr Paul Spence from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (ARCCSS).

"The sub-surface warming revealed in this research is on average twice as large as previously estimated with almost all of coastal Antarctica affected. This relatively warm water provides a huge reservoir of melt potential right near the grounding lines of ice shelves around Antarctica. It could lead to a massive increase in the rate of ice sheet melt, with direct consequences for global sea level rise."

Prior to this research by Dr Spence and colleagues from Australian National University and the University of New South Wales, most sea level rise studies focused on the rate of ice shelf melting due to the general warming of the ocean over large areas.

Using super computers at Australia's National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) Facility the researchers were able to examine the impacts of changing winds on currents down to 700m around the coastline in greater detail than ever before.

Previous global models did not adequately capture these currents and the structure of water temperatures at these depths. Unexpectedly, this more detailed approach suggests changes in Antarctic coastal winds due to climate change and their impact on coastal currents could be even more important on melting of the ice shelves than the broader warming of the ocean.

"When we first saw the results it was quite a shock. It was one of the few cases where I hoped the science was wrong," Dr Spence said.

"But the processes at play are quite simple, and well-resolved by the ocean model, so this has important implications for climate and sea-level projections. What is particularly concerning is how easy it is for climate change to increase the water temperatures beside Antarctic ice sheets."

The research may help to explain a number of sudden and unexplained increases in global sea levels that occurred in the geological past.

"It is very plausible that the mechanism revealed by this research will push parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet beyond a point of no return," said Dr Axel Timmerman, Prof of Oceanography at University of Hawaii and an IPCC lead author who has seen the paper.

"This work suggests the Antarctic ice sheets may be less stable to future climate change than previously assumed."

Recent estimates suggest the West Antarctic Ice Sheet alone could contribute 3.3 metres to long-term global sea level rise.

With both West and East Antarctica affected by the change in currents, in the future abrupt rises in sea level become more likely.

According to another of the paper's authors, Dr Nicolas Jourdain from ARCCSS, the mechanism that leads to rapid melting may be having an impact on the Western Antarctic right now. Dr Jourdain said it may help explain why the melt rate of some of the glaciers in that region are accelerating more than scientists expected.

"Our research indicates that as global warming continues, parts of East Antarctica will also be affected by these wind-induced changes in ocean currents and temperatures," Dr Jourdain said.

"Dramatic rises in sea level are almost inevitable if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the current rate."

Paul Spence, Stephen M. Griffies, Matthew H. England, Andrew McC. Hogg, Oleg A. Saenko, Nicolas C. Jourdain. Rapid subsurface warming and circulation changes of Antarctic coastal waters by poleward shifting winds. Geophysical Research Letters, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/2014GL060613

Picture: For millions of years, Antarctica, the frozen continent at the southern end of the planet, has been encased in a gigantic sheet of ice. Credit: NASA/GRACE team/DLR/Ben Holt Sr.

Coastal Environment Centre

The Coastal Environment Centre (CEC) is a multi-award winning regional community environmental learning centre, and Pittwater Council's environmental flagship. CEC is celebrating its 20th year this December

More at:

Monthly Cooee Newsletter below. If you would like to receive Council's environmental newsletter via email, please

July 2014 Cooee Newsletter includes information on: BushCare Planting Activities (volunteers needed), Workshops and Events, and great articles HERE 

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

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

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

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

•    identify options to reduce emissions of synthetic greenhouse gases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Elephant poaching and ivory smuggling figures released

Poaching levels remain alarmingly high at over 20,000. More large ivory seizures in Africa than Asia for the first time

Geneva, 13 June 2014 – Over 20,000 African elephants were poached across the continent in 2013 according to a report released today by the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Although the sharp upward trend in illegal elephant killing observed since the mid-2000s, which had peaked in 2011, is levelling off, poaching levels remain alarmingly high and continue to far exceed the natural elephant population growth rates, resulting in a further decline in elephant populations across Africa.

The report also shows a clear increase in the number of large seizures of ivory (shipments over 500 kg) made in 2013, before the ivory left the African continent. For the first time, the number of such seizures made in Africa exceeded those made in Asia. Just three African countries — Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda — accounted for 80% of those seizures. Large-scale ivory seizures are indicative of  transnational organized crime being involved in the illicit ivory trade.

“Africa’s elephants continue to face an immediate threat to their survival from high-levels of poaching for their ivory and with over 20,000 elephants illegally killed last year the situation remains dire. Due to the collective efforts of so many, we also see some encouraging signals, but experience shows that poaching trends can shift dramatically and quickly, especially when transnational organized crime is involved,” said John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES. 

Southern Africa continues to hold the lion’s share of Africa’s elephants, holding close to 55% of the known elephants on the continent. Eastern Africa holds 28% and Central Africa 16%. In West Africa, less than 2% of the continent’s known elephants are spread over 13 countries.

Poverty (measured by infant mortality rates) and weak governance (measured by law enforcement capacity and corruption levels), together with demand for illegal ivory in consuming nations are three key factors linked to higher poaching levels.

Overall poaching numbers were lower in 2013 than in 2012 and 2011 – but they continue to exceed 20,000.  The report warns that poaching levels will lead to continuing declines in the African elephant population.

The report identifies monitored sites where poaching is increasing (33% of monitored sites), including Dzanga Sangha (Central African Republic), as well as those sites where a decline in poaching has been observed (46%), such as Zakouma National Park (Chad). Some populations of elephants continue to face an immediate threat of local extinction.

The report containing the latest figures (2013) from the CITES Monitoring Illegal Killing in Elephants (MIKE) programme and the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) will be discussed at the 65th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee taking place in Geneva from 7 to 11 July 2014.

The monitoring data from the field is unique and it is the most comprehensive global survey of any of the 35,000 CITES-listed species. It is collected by law enforcement patrols and other means, who try to establish the cause of death and other details, every time a carcass is found. CITES then collates and analyses this data thanks to funds provided by the European Union.

Commenting on the scope of the report, Julian Blanc, responsible for the MIKE programme, said: “We are monitoring 30 to 40% of the elephant population, through a peer reviewed process that gives us the best available global estimates on the illegal killing of elephants. We hope to expand this coverage to improve on our estimates.  We are supporting countries that do not have the capacity or the funds to monitor MIKE sites and are seeking further support for field rangers.”

In March 2013, based on the findings of ETIS, CITES identified eight countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, China, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam) as the most heavily implicated in the illegal ivory trade chain as source, transit or destination countries.  CITES took decisions at that time requesting all eight countries to develop and implement National Ivory Action Plans to tackle the elephant poaching and smuggling crisis.

These decisions are being translated into a wide-range of actions and initiatives – improved protection in the field, stronger Customs controls, better use of modern technologies and forensics – such as DNA testing and isotopes, strengthened legislation and policies, targeted investigations and more prosecutions, new public awareness campaigns, the destruction of confiscated ivory stockpiles, and the allocation of dedicated funding to combat wildlife crime.

“We are seeing better law enforcement and demand-reduction efforts across multiple countries, as well as greater political and public attention to this unfolding crisis and CITES decisions and compliance processes underpin the global effort” said Scanlon.

“The momentum generated over the past three years must now translate into deeper and stronger efforts to fight these crimes on the front line, where it is needed most – from the field, to Customs, to illicit markets, and only then can we hope to reverse the devastating poaching trends of the past decade” added Scanlon.

Several conferences held since CITES Parties met in 2013, including in Gaborone, London and New York, have further contributed to securing high-level political support across all continents. 

The CITES Standing Committee next month will assess the eight countries National Ivory Action Plans, and will discuss the next steps to stop illegal ivory trade, including whether additional countries should develop National Ivory Action Plans. 

The Committee will also consider the roll out of a wide-range of enforcement-related decisions taken by CITES in March 2013 on other species being pressured by illegal trade, including rhinos, Asian big cats, rosewood, pangolins, freshwater turtles and tortoises, great apes, and snakes, as well as a study of the legal and illegal trade in wild cheetahs.

Original Seasons of Australia 

C/ - Bureau of  Meteorology Australia

When flowers are in bloom, cold weather starts and winds increase, the Maung people of NT know its Wumulukuk – the longest of three seasons, spanning from March to July. More info here:


Remarkable Reptiles

9th Aug 2014 - 2pm - 4pm

Come and join us for a couple of hours and meet some of our local wildlife rescuers from Sydney Wildlife and their scaly animal friends.

Looking for something fun and educational that the whole family can be a part of? Fancy getting up close and personal with a few scaly critters? Then this event's for you!!

The Northern Beaches is home to m any species of snakes and reptiles. Find out what some of these species are and where they are likely to be found. Bring along your questions for our reptile specialists.

Don't forget to bring your camera for some happy snaps with our reptile friends.

Where: Meet point provided on booking. Cost: Free! Bookings Essential! Online. In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen. Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception - Option 1)

Irrawong Reserve Community Planting Day - 16th Aug 2014 - 1pm - 4pm

Come along to the beautiful Ingleside Chase Reserve and help the Irrawong Reserve Bushcare Group

Join the Irrawong Reserve Bushcare group in the idyllic surrounds of Ingleside Chase Reserve for an afternoon of bushland restoration and planting native tubestock, and help support one of the largest Bushcare projects hosted by the Pittwater Environmental Foundation and Pittwater Council.

This project is funded by a $250,000 grant from the NSW Environmental Trust, and offers residents the chance to explore this little known and picturesque reserve, rich in native wildlife and habitat for rare and threatened species such as the Powerful Owl, Regent Honeyeater and Giant Burrowing Frog.

Tools, training and a delicious afternoon tea provided!

Where: Walking track entrance at the end of Irrawong Road. Parking available along Irrawong Road, North Narrabeen.

For more information please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367 or email

Wongala Avenue Planting Day

23rd Aug 2014 - 9am - 12pm

Help us continue the wonderful efforts by local residents during the March event! Local residents are invited to take part in a series of events to assist the Deep Creek Riparian Ecosystem Catchment Project. The grant funding is from Greater Sydney Local Land Services and will support bush regeneration, habitat creation and riparian restoration within Deep Creek, Bilarong Reserve and the Elanora Bushcare site. Come along and help us restore the natural habitat of the Deep Creek Catchment Area!

Where: Meet at the end of the public right of way at the end of Wongala Avenue, Elanora Heights.

Morning tea, tools and training provided. Free native plants will also be on offer for Elanora residents!

For more information contact the Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367 or email

Bush to Bay Walk

24th Aug 2014 - 9am - 11am

Come and join us for a relaxing morning walk taking in the beautiful views and coastal bushland of Pittwater. This walk takes in one of Pittwater's largest bushland reserves on its coastal clifftop. Together with the great variety of native plants in the reserve and beautiful ocean views it is a haven for bushwalkers and wildlife alike. Small animals including the long-nosed bandidcoot and elusive gecko shelter in rock overhangs and crevices, or in dead logs in the eucalypt forest.

Where: Meet point provided upon booking.

Cost: Free!  Bookings Essential! Online.  In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception - Option 1)

Bilarong Foreshore Walk and Field Day

31st Aug 2014 - 9am - 12pm

Come along and help us restore the natural habitat of the Deep Creek Catchment area!

Join us for a guided walk and bird talk in Bilarong Reserve along the foreshore of Narrabeen Lagoon through to Deep Creek, lend a hand with some weeding/planting and enjoy a scrumptious morning tea at the Deep Creek picnic area!

Where: Bilarong Reserve, end of turning circle near gates.

For more information contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367 or email

Plastic Free July - Take the Challenge! 

 Burralow reopened and perfect for a spot of winter camping - Media release: 10 July 2014

Burralow picnic and camping area in the Hawkesbury section of the Blue Mountains National Park, has just re-opened to the public following a short closure to ensure the safety of visitors while local fire trails were maintained ahead of summer. 

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has just completed work to a number of fire trails connecting Burralow Rd at Kurrajong Heights) to the Bells Line of Road at Bilpin. 

“Burralow is a beautiful camping area set in a grassy open area among scribbly gum trees – ideal for families or small groups,” NPWS Acting Area Manager David Monahan said. 

“During the winter months it’s perfect for bushwalking – try the one-hour return easy grade walk to Bulcamatta Falls – or picnicking under the clear, blue skies before warming up in front of a campfire in the evenings. 

“Basic facilities are provided, including fire rings complete with swing-arms – for your billy tea – along with a clean non-flush toilet. You'll need to bring drinking water and firewood.” 

The Burralow area has a fascinating history, “Burralow Swamp” being one of the very first lands granted, namely to retired British Army Lieutenant Bowen in 1828. 

There’s also the Bulcamatta Falls Convict Walking Track which leads to twin waterfalls; the name “Bulcamatta” is derived from the local aboriginal word meaning mountain and water. 

Convict-era remains can still be seen today as you walk through the open woodland which gently gives way to remnant rainforest and finally the beautiful twin waterfalls set within a magical sandstone grotto. 

If you have a keen eye you’ll notice the swamp has been modified by the various historic users of this site including the original occupants the Darug people who lived here for tens of thousands of years. 

How to get to Burralow: Take the Bells Line of Road drive from Richmond to Kurrajong Heights and turn off at Warks Hill Road travelling up to the top of the hill where you then turn left onto the fire trail off Burralow Road (strictly 4WD only). Follow the Tabaraga Ridge Fire Trail seven kilometres before turning right into the camping area. From Bilpin, take the Paterson Range Fire Trail (also strictly 4WD only; Please drive carefully on the winding fire trails leading to the camping area). Burralow is roughly 90 minutes from Sydney. 

“As with all national parks in NSW, gathering native vegetation is strictly prohibited so please bring your own firewood (which you can buy from local service stations). You’ll also need to bring your own drinking water,” Mr Monahan said. 

“Campfires are only permitted in fixed fireplaces provided and please take all garbage with you when you leave.”

 Bathing Birds Project – Citizen Scientists

Have you got a spare 20 minutes once a week to monitor your birdbath in winter and summer?

National Parks Association of New South Wales in partnership with BirdLife Australia’s Birds in Backyards Program and The University of Sydney proudly presents a citizen science initiative: Bathing Birds. With this exciting initiative we will be exploring which birds are using birdbaths, how it changes between seasons and how our gardening habitats are influencing which birds are present. The winter Bathing Birds survey starts on Friday the 27th of June and finishes on Sunday the 27th of July. During this period we would like you to record what birds visit your birdbath for a 20 minute period, up to 3 times a week.

What you will do as Bathing Bird's citizen scientist

Step 1:  Mark the location of your birdbath on our map 

Step 2: Answer our questionnire about your garden 

Step 3: Record your bathing birds sightings!

Get involved here:

Top: male King Parrot, taken 2.7.2014 by A J Guesdon.

 The Great Kola Count - The Koala Count results are in!

The report records more sightings on private land then public reserves; indicating the loss of habitat and fragmentation, compounded by being struck by vehicles, attacked by dogs and cats, chronic stress, as well as loss of weight due to loss of food trees and instances of Chlamydia are combining to prevent an increase in our koala populations. Only one area, Port Stephens, recorded an increase in koala numbers. 

Pittwater 2107, 2108 2 citizen scientists 0 koalas 

See all reports at:

 Beautiful but a threat: Tropical fish invasion destroys kelp forests

July 9, 2014 - The migration of tropical fish as a result of ocean warming poses a serious threat to the temperate areas they invade, because they overgraze on kelp forests and seagrass meadows, a new study concludes. The harmful impact is most evident in southern Japanese waters and the eastern Mediterranean, where there have been dramatic declines in kelps. There is also emerging evidence of damage in Australia and the US from the spread of tropical fish towards the poles.

"The tropicalisation of temperate marine areas is a new phenomenon of global significance that has arisen because of climate change," says study lead author, Dr Adriana Verges, of UNSW Australia.

"Increases in the number of plant-eating tropical fish can profoundly alter ecosystems and lead to barren reefs, affecting the biodiversity of these regions, with significant economic and management impacts."

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

As the oceans have warmed and the climate has changed, hotspots are developing in regions where the currents that transport warm tropical waters towards the poles are strengthening.

Increased flow of the East Australian Current, for example, has meant waters south-east of the continent are warming at two to three times the global average. Tropical fish are now common in Sydney Harbour during the summer months.

Japan, the east coast of the US, northern Brazil and south eastern Africa are also strongly influenced by coastal currents that transport warm tropical waters.

"In tropical regions, a wide diversity of plant-eating fish perform the vital role of keeping reefs free of large seaweeds, allowing corals to flourish. But when they intrude into temperate waters they pose a significant threat to these habitats. They can directly overgraze algal forests as well as prevent the recovery of algae that have been damaged for other reasons," says Dr Verges.

Tropical fish expanding their ranges into temperate areas include unicornfish, parrotfish, and rabbitfish.

The study authors include researchers from Australia, the US, Spain, Singapore, the UK and Japan.

Case studies:

Southern Japan:

More than 40 per cent of the kelp and algal beds have disappeared since the 1990s, a phenomenon known in Japan as isoyake. Tropical species including rabbitfish and parrotfish appear to be mainly responsible.

Although these fish have been present for a long time, their annual grazing rates have increased dramatically as ocean temperatures in winter have risen. Corals now dominate the ecosystem in many locations. The changes have led to the collapse of the abalone fishery.

Eastern Mediterranean:

Tropical fish moved into the eastern Mediterranean from the Red Sea after the opening of the Suez Canal. In recent decades, rabbitfish numbers have increased, resulting in hundreds of kilometres of deforested areas and a 40 per cent decrease in the variety of marine species.

As the Mediterranean warms the rabbitfish are expanding their range westward, putting other shallow ecosystems at risk.


There has been a more than 20-fold increase in the number of parrotfish in the Gulf of Mexico -- a species which consumes seagrass at five times the rate of native grazers. The number of plant-eating green turtles and manatees has also increased.


In Western Australia, emerging evidence suggests that increases in the number of tropical fish are preventing the recovery of kelp forest damaged by a heat wave in 2011.

In eastern Australia, kelp has disappeared from numerous reefs in the past 5 years and Dr Verges' research suggests intense grazing by tropical fish on the kelp preceded this.

The above story is based on materials provided by University of New South Wales. Photo; A school of tropical plant-eating fish including various species that are shifting their distribution towards temperate waters. Credit: Adriana Verges

 Reef Ranger reports for duty on Great Barrier Reef - July 3, 2014


The Great Barrier Reef and its amazing inhabitants will be better protected for Queenslanders and tourists to enjoy thanks to the launch of a new $5 million vessel, the ‘Reef Ranger’.

The 24-metre aluminium catamaran, jointly funded by the Queensland and Australian governments, was named and launched by Queensland National Parks Minister Steve Dickson and Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt in Cairns today. 

“The vessel will act as a floating ranger to monitor and protect the Reef in the most efficient and effective way possible, delivering on the Queensland Government’s promise to revitalise frontline services and boost tourism,” Mr Dickson said.

“The new boat can operate away from port for 12 weeks, has a range of up to 2000 nautical miles, a speed of up to 25 knots and can carry 28 people, so it gives us the freedom to spend more time on activities that protect the reef and support tourism.”

Minister Hunt said Reef Ranger was twice as fast as its 24-year-old predecessor, the Kerra Lyn, as well as being more environmentally friendly and more cost-effective.

“The new vessel is capable of reaching all corners of the 348,000 square kilometre Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, which improves our ability to respond to incidents quickly, and to service all parts of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

“Time saved travelling means more time on-site at important and often remote breeding and nesting sites of some of the marine park’s threatened seabird and turtle species,” Mr Hunt said.

“The boat will be used for a huge range of activities such as monitoring compliance with zoning rules, maintaining popular island visitor sites and moorings and fire and weed control on islands.”

Mr Dickson said some of the tasks the boat would undertake included surveying for crown-of-thorns, which is one of the leading causes of the decline of coral cover in the Great Barrier Reef, and monitoring the turtle population on Raine Island.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is roughly the size of Italy or Japan, so rangers have a lot of territory to cover in their day-to-day work.

A typical day might involve monitoring compliance of zoning rules, maintaining facilities such as camping grounds and moorings, fire and weed control on islands, working with Traditional Owners on their sea country, or responding to boating or shipping incidents such as fuel spills.

The vessel will be based in Cairns but will spend more than 200 days of the year at sea, travelling the length and breadth of the World Heritage Area — a vital tool in the continued long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef and work to improve the resilience of this natural wonder. 

Gold Coast firm, Marine Engineering Consultants, undertook the construction of the Reef Ranger, representing a significant investment in Queensland’s boat building industry and an important boost for local jobs.

 Logging and burning cause the loss of 54 million tons of carbon a year in Amazonia

July 8, 2014 – A study conducted by scientists in Brazil and the United Kingdom has quantified the impact that selective logging, partial destruction by burning, and fragmentation resulting from the development of pastures and plantations have had on the Amazon rainforest. In combination, these factors could be removing nearly 54 million tons of carbon from the forest each year, introduced into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases. This total represents up to 40% of the carbon loss caused by deforestation in the region. The study, which was conducted by 10 researchers from 11 institutions in Brazil and the United Kingdom, was published in the May issue of the journal Global Change Biology.

"The impacts of timber extraction, burning and fragmentation have received little notice because all the efforts have been focused on preventing further deforestation. This attitude has resulted in tremendous progress in conserving the Brazilian Amazon, whose deforestation rate fell more than 70% over the past 10 years. However, our study has shown that this other type of degradation is having a severe impact on the forest, with enormous quantities of previously stored carbon being lost into the atmosphere," said Erika Berenguer, researcher from the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University, in the United Kingdom, first author on the study.

According to Joice Ferreira, researcher at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa Amazônia Oriental) in Belém, state of Pará, and second author on the study, one of the reasons that this degradation has gone unnoticed is that it is difficult to monitor. "Satellite imagery allows much easier detection of areas that are totally deforested," she said.

"Our research combined satellite imagery with field study. We conducted a pixel-by-pixel assessment [each pixel in the image corresponds to an area measuring 900 meters squared (m2)] regarding what has happened over the past 20 years. In the field research, we studied 225 plots (each 3,000 m2) in two large regions in an area measuring 3 million hectares [30,000 square meters], which we used as a model to estimate what occurred in the Amazon as a whole," Ferreira explained.

The satellite images, compared every two years, have enabled researchers to put together an extensive overview of the degradation of the forest along a 20-year timeline. The field research assessed scarring from burning, timber extraction and other disturbances. The combination of the two investigations resulted in the estimate of carbon stock available today.

Two regions were studied in loco: Santarém and Paragominas, in the eastern part of the Amazon region, both under strong degradation pressures. Two hundred twenty-five areas were investigated in these two regions.

"We collected data from more than 70,000 trees and took more than 5,000 samples of soil, dead wood and other components of what is known as carbon stock. It was the largest study conducted to date regarding carbon loss from tropical forests due to selective logging and wildfires," Ferreira said.

According to her, the research included four of the five functionally distinct carbon pools whose study is recommended by the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): aboveground biomass (live plants), dead organic matter, leaf litter (layer that contains a combination of fragments of leaves, branches and other decomposing organic matter) and soil (up to 30 centimeters (cm) in depth). "The only thing we didn't measure was the carbon stock in the roots," she said.

For comparative purposes, five categories of forest were considered: primary (totally intact) forest; forest affected by logging; forest affected by fires; forest affected by selective logging and fires; and secondary forests (regenerating after complete clearance).

The forests that were disturbed by logging or fire had from 18% to 57% less carbon than primary forests. One area of primary forest ended up having more than 300 tons of carbon per hectare, while areas of forest that had been burned or subjected to timber extraction had, at most, 200 tons per hectare and, on average, less than 100 tons of carbon per hectare.

Erika Berenguer, Joice Ferreira, Toby Alan Gardner, Luiz Eduardo Oliveira Cruz Aragão, Plínio Barbosa De Camargo, Carlos Eduardo Cerri, Mariana Durigan, Raimundo Cosme De Oliveira, Ima Célia Guimarães Vieira, Jos Barlow. A large-scale field assessment of carbon stocks in human-modified tropical forests.Global Change Biology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12627

 GoPro: Polar Bears - The Quest for Sea Ice - Published on 21 Jun 2014

Take a swim with a polar bear family as they traverse the Arctic Ocean in search of sea ice.

To learn more about the Arctic Exploration Fund

 Record levels of solar ultraviolet on Earth's surface measured in South America

July 8, 2014 – A team of researchers in the U.S. and Germany has measured the highest level of ultraviolet radiation ever recorded on Earth's surface. The extraordinary UV fluxes, observed in the Bolivian Andes only 1,500 miles from the equator, are far above those normally considered to be harmful to both terrestrial and aquatic life. The results are being published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Environmental Science.

"These record-setting levels were not measured in Antarctica, where ozone holes have been a recurring problem for decades," says team leader Nathalie A. Cabrol of the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center. "This is in the tropics, in an area where there are small towns and villages."

The measurements were made in the southern hemisphere summer of 2003 and 2004, using instruments developed for the European Light Dosimeter Network (Eldonet). They were undertaken as Cabrol's team was investigating high altitude Andean lakes as part of an astrobiology study of Mars-like environments. Dosimeters were deployed on the summit of the towering Licancabur volcano (altitude: 5,917 meters) and at nearby Laguna Blanca (altitude 4,340 meters). The combination of a midday sun near the zenith, as well as the high elevation of these sites, produces higher irradiance levels because of naturally low ozone in such locations. But these intensities of short-wavelength UV-B radiation (280 -- 315 nm) are unprecedented.

"A UV index of 11 is considered extreme, and has reached up to 26 in nearby locations in recent years," notes Cabrol. "But on December 29, 2003, we measured an index of 43. If you're at a beach in the U.S., you might experience an index of 8 or 9 during the summer, intense enough to warrant protection. You simply do not want to be outside when the index reaches 30 or 40."

The intense radiation coincided with other circumstances that may have increased the UV flux, including ozone depletion by increased aerosols from both seasonal storms and fires in the area. In addition, a large solar flare occurred just two weeks before the highest UV fluxes were registered. Ultraviolet spikes continued to occur -- albeit at lower intensity -- throughout the period of solar instability, and stopped thereafter. While the evidence linking the solar event to the record-breaking radiation is only circumstantial, particles from such flares are known to affect atmospheric chemistry and may have increased ozone depletion.

"While these events are not directly tied to climate change, they are sentinels of what could occur if ozone thins globally," Cabrol says. "The thinner and more unstable the ozone, the more prone we will be to this kind of event."

High UV-B exposure negatively affects the entire biosphere, not just humans. It damages DNA, affects photosynthesis, and decreases the viability of eggs and larvae. For these reasons, it is important to keep a close watch on UV flux levels.

"While this unsettling record might be the result of a 'perfect storm' of events, it could happen again," says Cabrol, "because the factors that caused it are not rare. What we need is more monitoring of the ozone changes in these areas. These fluxes, which are comparable to those of early Mars, are occurring in a populated area."

Nathalie A. Cabrol, Uwe Feister, Donat-Peter Häder, Helmut Piazena, Edmond A. Grin and Andreas Klein. Record solar UV irradiance in the tropical Andes.Frontiers in Environmental Science, 2014 DOI: 10.3389/fenvs.2014.00019 

Above: Licancabur volcano. Credit: © Alexander Zotov / Fotolia

 eSPADE provides free soil information online

NSW landowners now have access to fine details about what’s in their soil without lifting a shovel or stepping outside, through the NSW Government’s new online soil mapping database eSPADE.

NSW Office of Environment (OEH) Acting Director of Science Greg Summerell said eSPADE  for the first time places detailed soil landscape mapping covering 60 per cent of the state into an interactive online environment.

“The soil landscape information provides a compendium of natural resource information that describes not only soil and landscape features— such as geology, topography, native vegetation and soil type - but also information about the capability of the land and the fertility of its soils,” Mr Summerell said.

“eSPADE is a new internet based information system that allows free, easy map based access to soil and land information from across NSW.

“That means that farmers, consultants, Local Land Services and anyone who needs the information now have detailed information at their fingertips about the soil type, geology and topography of the land whether they are standing on the spot, or 500km away.”

eSPADE uses Google Maps to display information from the NSW soils database SALIS (Soil and Land Information System), which is managed by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).

It makes available detailed soil landscape mapping covering about 509,000 square kilometres of NSW and almost 40,000 profile descriptions.

It is valuable information used by everyone from individual farmers planning how to best use their cropping land and agencies carrying out fauna and vegetation surveys to large scale land use planning such as the revised Mining SEPP gazetted in January this year.

“With both desktop and mobile versions it is a significant leap forward in the accessibility if nature resource information in NSW, which before was only available by buying maps and reports in hard copy or DVD,” Mr Summerell said.

eSPADE will is available free at


funny pictures

 Neighborhoods with healthy food options less likely to have overweight kids

July 8, 2014 - Children with a greater number of healthy food outlets near their homes had a reduced likelihood of being overweight or obese, finds an Australian study published in American Journal of Health Promotion.

Children who had access to at least one healthy food outlet within 800 meters (about half a mile) of their home had a 38 percent decreased risk of being overweight or obese compared to those who did not. Each additional outlet for healthy foods within that distance was associated with a 19 percent reduction in risk of being overweight or obese.

"Few previous studies have considered the likely reduction in risk of childhood overweight or obesity associated with proximity to healthy food outlets," said lead author Laura Miller, Ph.D., an epidemiologist with the Public Health and Clinical Services Division for the state of Western Australia.

The findings are based on data collected from 1850 children ages 5 to 15 in the city of Perth in Western Australia and their neighborhood food outlets. The study controlled for age, physical activity, time spent sedentary, the number of take-out meals per week, and the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood. Food outlets in Western Australia must be registered with local government authorities and were geographically coded by location and types of food sold. In addition to familiar chains such as McDonalds, Chinese, Thai, and Indian take-out restaurants, fish-and-chips shops, burger joints, and pizzerias were all coded as fast food outlets. Supermarkets, fruit and vegetable shops, and butchers were coded as healthy food outlets.

"We chose our definition of 'fast food' based on previous studies which included both multinational and independent fast food outlets, and the assumption that people eating at these outlets have limited control over the ingredients and portion sizes provided," Miller explained. Supermarkets, general stores, fruit and vegetable stores, and butchers provide more healthy food options, and also allow for control over ingredients and portion size, she said.

"This study provides a sense of the associations between neighborhood food stores and restaurants relative to self-reported height and weight in Australian children," said Penny Gordon-Larsen, Ph.D., Professor of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Fellow of The Obesity Society. "The work confirms findings from several studies in other locations, such as the U.S., Europe, and Canada, among other countries. It is important to note that the literature in this area is quite mixed, likely because of the complexity of the association between neighborhood food stores, diet, and body weight."

Laura J. Miller, Sarah Joyce, Shannon Carter, Grace Yun.Associations Between Childhood Obesity and the Availability of Food Outlets in the Local Environment: A Retrospective Cross-Sectional Study. American Journal of Health Promotion, 2014; 28 (6): e137 DOI: 10.4278/ajhp.130214-QUAN-70

 Science and cookies: Researchers tap into citizen science to shed light on ant diversity

July 7, 2014 - Scientists from North Carolina State University and the University of Florida have combined cookies, citizen science and robust research methods to track the diversity of ant species across the United States, and are now collaborating with international partners to get a global perspective on how ants are moving and surviving in the modern world.

"We think our School of Ants project serves as a good model for how citizen science can be used to collect more data, more quickly, from more places than a research team could do otherwise," says Dr. Andrea Lucky, a researcher at the University of Florida who started work on the School of Ants while a postdoctoral researcher at NC State and now heads the project. Lucky is co-lead author of a paper describing the work and its early findings. "And our protocols help ensure that the data we are collecting are high quality."

The School of Ants project was developed at NC State to help researchers get a handle on the diversity of ant species across the United States, with a particular focus on Chicago, Raleigh and New York City. In short, to discover which ant species are living where.

"But we also wanted to launch a citizen science project that both increased the public's ecological literacy and addressed criticisms that public involvement made citizen science data unreliable," says Dr. Amy Savage , a postdoctoral biological sciences researcher at NC State and the other co-lead author of the paper.

The researchers developed a simple protocol involving Pecan Sandies cookies and sealable plastic bags, detailing precisely how the public should collect and label ant samples before shipping them to NC State or UF. This process was designed to engage the public in the aspect of the research that was easiest for non-scientists to enjoy and participate in, while also limiting the chances that the public could make mistakes that would skew the findings.

Once the samples arrive at NC State or UF, they are sorted, identified by a team of national experts and entered into a database. That information is then made publicly available in a user-friendly format on the project's site, allowing study participants to track the survey.

"This information is helping us tackle a variety of ecological and evolutionary questions, such as how ants may be evolving in urban environments, and how invasive species are spreading in the U.S.," Savage says.

More than 1,000 participants, with samples from all 50 states, have taken part in the project since its 2011 launch - and there have already been some surprising findings.

For example, the researchers learned that a venomous invasive species, the Asian needle ant (Pachycondyla chinensis), had spread thousands of miles farther than anyone expected. Researchers knew the species had established itself in the Southeast, but study participants sent in Asian needle ant samples from as far afield as Wisconsin and Washington state.

To build on the School of Ants model, the researchers have launched collaborations with counterparts in Italy and Australia.

"We're optimistic that this project will give us a broader view of ant diversity and how these species intersect with us, where we live and work around the world," Lucky says.

The researchers are also working with teachers to incorporate the project into K-12 instruction modules that incorporate key elements of common core education standards. One early teacher collaboration has led to a research paper co-written by 4th and 5th graders.

"We also collaborated with a science writer to produce a free series of iBooks featuring natural history stories about the most common ants that our citizen science partners are collecting in their backyards and sidewalks," Savage says.

"One of our big goals now is to move from collecting data and finding patterns to identifying ways that we can work with the public to figure out what is driving those patterns," says Dr. Rob Dunn, an associate professor of biological sciences at NC State and co-author of the paper.

The paper, "Ecologists, educators, and writers collaborate with the public to assess backyard diversity in The School of Ants Project," was published online July 7 in the open-access journal Ecosphere.

Amy Savage et al. Ecologists, educators, and writers collaborate with the public to assess backyard diversity in The School of Ants Project. Ecosphere, July 2014

Above: Rob Dunn and a young citizen scientist. Credit: Lauren Nichols - 

More on the Australian part of this project in this week's Children's Page - next phase will form part of Science Week 2014 (In Australia - August 16-24) - Ed.

 Never mind...

funny pictures

 Surfing Championships (1964) at Avalon BeachPublished on 13 Apr 2014

Unissued / Unused Material - by British Pathe.

Title reads: "Championships: Surfin' At Avalon. (By courtesy of CBS Records The Atlantics play 'The Crusher')". Australian voice-overed newsreel material.

 Cognitive surplus

Humans on earth have enormous amounts of ‘free time’.

I know you’re busy; you barely have time to scratch yourself. It’s hard to find time to get your hair done, spend quality time with partner and kids, prepare nutritious meals, stay an extra hour in the meeting, attend all birthdays, weddings and footy barbeques…..

You probably watch TV however, becoming a passive consumer to some degree, of media that does little more than kill time and numb reality.  But all that time passively consuming TV (Australian adults spend an average of 13 hours a week watching TV) can be turned into creating and potentially sharing projects with real civic or scientific value. Projects like Ushahidi, crises and connecting communities in emergency situations, and the Zooniverse, a citizen science platform that allows citizens to participate in research from finding planets to identifying African animals in photographs.

The collective cognitive surplus of couch surfing humans could be used wisely to increase the scale of research projects and gain different perspectives to problems across scientific disciplines. And this is exactly what is happening.

Citizen science opportunities are booming, and you can participate. Instead of turning on the TV one night this week, turn to the computer and travel into the Zooniverse; transcribe old biological notes, find planets, hear whales communicate, analyse cancer data. Connect with your own WildLife and swab your belly button or your armpits, track your cat or collect ants!

Have fun, learn, and contribute to meaningful research.  You might even make a special event of your citizen science projects. Science Saturday? School holiday African animal spotting? Get together with family and compare notes. Participate in School of Ants Australia!

Use your cognitive surplus, and read more about it too. The book ‘Cognitive Surplus’ by Clay Shirky (reviewed here by The Guardian) is an important read, in which he argues that technology and media today are mighty forces with the potential to build a better, more connected and knowledgeable world.

By University of New England, Armidale.

Likelihood of hospitalised injury rises with older age

The likelihood of older Australians being hospitalised after suffering injury increased in line with increasing age, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Hospitalised injuries in older Australians: 2011–12, shows that there were approximately 126,000 Australians aged 65 and over admitted to hospital due to injury in 2011–12, accounting for over one-quarter of all injury hospitalisations.

The rate of injury hospitalisations for older Australians increased from about 1,700 cases per 100,000 population for those aged 65–69 to 11,400 cases per 100,000 population for those aged 85 or over. 

‘The rate of injury hospitalisations for women (4,300 cases per 100,000 women) was nearly one-third higher than the rate for men (3,200 cases per 100,000 men), after allowing for the greater number of women than men who survive to old age,’ said AIHW spokesperson Professor James Harrison.

The leading causes of unintentional injury in 2011–12 were falls (77%). Injury by inanimate mechanical forces (injuries involving an object) (6%), transport crashes (5%), animate mechanical forces (injuries due to contact with animals or people, excluding assault), or venomous bites and stings (2%) and poisoning by pharmaceuticals (1%) accounted for most of the remaining unintentional injury.

‘There were approximately 96,000 cases of hospitalised falls injury in 2011–12. The rate increased with increasing age, with the highest number of hospitalisations recorded among people aged 85 and older (41,267),’ Professor Harrison said.

Roughly equal numbers of older men (3,228) and women (2,941) sustained a transport-related injury. Women were more likely than men to have been injured while in a car, as a pedestrian, or on a bus, and less likely than men to have been injured while using a motorcycle or a pedal cycle.

Striking or being struck by an object was the most common cause of hospitalised injury due to inanimate mechanical forces, followed by contact with tools and machinery. For the latter group, more than half of the injury cases in men were due to powered hand tools.

Bites or being struck by dogs, cats, cattle, and horses were the most common causes of hospitalisation among older Australians due to animate mechanical forces.

Medications used to treat diabetes and manage pain were the most common drugs reported in cases of unintentional poisoning by pharmaceuticals for older Australians in 2011–12. Pharmaceutical drugs were also involved in about 77% of hospitalisations for intentional self-harm among older Australians in 2011–12.

The average length of stay in hospital was 7.6 days for older Australian women compared with 6.8 days for men. This average increased with increasing age for both men and women, from nearly 5 days at ages 65–69 to over 8 days at age 85 and over.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 8 July 2014

 New virtual lab drives Australian research on human communication - 07 July 2014

Vice-Chancellor Professor Barney Glover, NSW Chief Scientist Professor Mary O'Kane, MARCS Institute Director Professor Denis Burnham, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Development) Professor Scott Holmes

An Australian project led by the University of Western Sydney is connecting researchers from across the country in a virtual lab of the 21st century, where academics can access vast amounts of raw data and run real time analyses in the Science of Human Communication.

The Alveo project was officially launched by the New South Wales Chief Scientist, Professor Mary O’Kane, and the UWS Vice Chancellor, Professor Barney Glover, at the Female Orphan School at the UWS Parramatta Campus.

Alveo is a collaboration between 13 universities and 3 government bodies to bring large amounts speech, music and video data into a powerful online platform academics can access from the comfort of their own computers. 

By giving researchers easy access to vast stores of valuable social and linguistic information, the University of Western Sydney is providing a valuable portal into the future of language and communication research.

Alveo takes advantage of digital technology to grant academics access to a wide range of databases, and allows them to run large amounts of data through real-time analyses with their choice of analysis tools. Researchers can then document their results in an online annotation system, giving other academics instant access to new findings.

“Speech and language research is growing ever more crucial as modern society moves from the keyboard to voice recognition, yet on the other hand globalisation means that more languages are becoming endangered every day,” says the Director of the UWS MARCS Institute, Professor Denis Burnham.

“By throwing open the doors to the incredible amounts of data accrued by universities and institutions across the country, and designing ways to gather even more new data - even from remote or mobile locations - we are giving Australia the best chance to be at the forefront of these new technologies, while also gathering crucial information about languages under threat.”

Funded under the Australian Government NeCTAR program, Alveo brings text, video and audio information from 7 large corpora including AusTalk, which includes recordings of 3 hours of speech from each of 1,000 adults across Australia to showcase the diversity of accents and intonations. In addition, 11 different analysis tools have been incorporated to allow novel data-tool pair ups.

The stage is now set to incorporate data from special groups, such as stutterers or children with autism, so that more intricate research questions regarding such conditions can be posed and  answered, and intervention and remedial programs devised and implemented.

Professor Burnham says research in the future must go beyond the secluded desk-PC-lab-university-bound model to eradicate the waste involved in repeated unshared analyses. Alveo will dramatically improve scientific replicability by moving corpora and tools and the analyses conducted with these into an easy access, shared, in-the-cloud environment.

“Alveo makes Human Communication research ‘open access’ by moving the corpora, tools and subsequent analyses into a public environment,” says Professor Burnham.

“New Australian research on Australian data with Australian tools by Australian researchers will be the winner.”

 Went rafting, saw some new Boeing 737 fuselages in the river (Montana - Clark Fork River.). No biggie... - July 5th, 2014

 The Image in Question - an international arts conference in Sydney - 8 July 2014

The image-saturated world that we live in today will be under scrutiny at an international, interdisciplinary conference and exhibition at Sydney College of the Arts from 1-3 August.International researchers led by the University of Sydney's contemporary arts school and philosophy department, together with the Australian Catholic University's Institute of Social Justice, will examine society's position as consumers of images in film, photography, television, the internet and contemporary art.

The conference theme, The Image in Question, is partly inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film Blow Up, which follows a fashion photographer's quest for verifiable evidence of a murder he has unwittingly captured on film. Underlying the film is a metaphor for the hidden truths revealed in an image - an idea that will be explored at the Sydney conference.

Dr John Di Stefano, Associate Professor, Sydney College of the Arts and one of the conference organisers, said: "Images are generated and disseminated at unheard of speed and volume now more than ever. As consumers, we have become somewhat desensitized by the deluge of images that we encounter through various media daily.

"This conference will consider how the image can still be meaningful today, and what its currency and role is in society. It will also raise philosophical questions about the future of our society and human kind, in a world mediated through photo media," he said.

Visiting Australia for the conference is international cultural theorist and video artist Dr Mieke Bal from the University of Amsterdam. An author of more than 30 books, Bal also makes experimental documentaries on migration and more recently has begun exploring fiction. She will deliver a keynote address on 'Temporal Turbulence', which will examine how imaging and thinking politically might go hand in hand.

Dr Stephen White, another international guest speaker and Philosophy Professor at Boston's Tufts University, will deliver the second keynote on scepticism and the camera as a metaphor for the mind.

Accompanying The Image in Question is an exhibition, The Sceptical Image, which integrates creative art research into the conference. The exhibition sees 11 contemporary artists, including SCA lecturers Anne Ferran, Ryszard Dabek, John Di Stefano, Merilyn Fairskye, Stefan Popescu, Cherine Fahd, Justin Trendall and Margaret Seymour, develop new works across photography, video installation, digital art and film. In a unique forum, the conference will move into the SCA Galleries to examine and interrogate images created by these contemporary artists in response to the conference theme, providing a further avenue for critical debate and exchange during the conference.

In conjunction with the conference, Mieke Bal also presents her latest video installation Madame B. Explorations in Emotional Capitalism at the SCA Galleries. Her immersive exhibition is inspired by Gustave Flaubert's 1856 debut novel Madame Bovary, which tells an archetypal story of a doctor's wife's adulterous affairs and who lives beyond her means to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. The installation, comprising 19 video screen projections, follows a similar, modern day tale of human madness and destruction. Made in collaboration with fellow video and performance artist Michelle Williams Gamaker, the work is loyal to the cinema as an art form for revealing images that have big screen political influence.

The Image in Question will draw experts from several other key universities internationally and in NSW and the ACT, who will speak as part of this interdisciplinary conference. For the full program and to register visit

The Sceptical Image and Madame B Explorations in Emotional Capitalism exhibitions are showing at the SCA Galleries until 30 August.

Event details

What: The Image in Question international conference

When: 1-3 August (exhibition opening: 1 Aug and conference: 2-3 Aug)

Where: Sydney College of the Arts, Callan Park, Lilyfield

Cost: $120 adult, $70 concession (Day rate $70/$45)


 Weird perspective of a painting found in Windsor, England - June 2014

Found at Gallery at Ice in Windsor, UK painted by Brian Weavers,

 NASA's RapidScat to unveil hidden cycles of sea winds

July 8, 2014 - Ocean waves, the hot sun, sea breezes - the right combination makes a great day at the beach. A different combination makes a killer hurricane. The complex interactions of the ocean and the air above it that can create such different outcomes are not yet fully known. Scientists would especially like to understand the role that the daily heat of the sun plays in creating winds. In a few months, NASA will send an ocean wind-monitoring instrument to a berth on the International Space Station. That unique vantage point will give ISS-RapidScat, short for the International Space Station Rapid Scatterometer, the ability to observe daily (also called diurnal) cycles of wind created by solar heat.

Winds contribute to motion in the ocean on every scale, from individual waves to currents extending thousands of miles. They affect local weather as well as large-scale, long-term climate patterns such as El Niño. Across the tropical Pacific, winds help or hinder local economies by allowing nutrient-rich water to well up from the ocean depths, nourishing marine life to the benefit of coastal fisheries, or blocking its upwelling.

Since the hours of daylight are totally predictable, you might expect their influence on winds to be equally obvious. But that's not the case. According to Sarah Gille, an oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego, "There's an enormous amount of diurnal wind variation between 30 degrees north and south of the equator, and we don't understand the timing. It's clear that the winds aren't just triggered every day at noon [when the sun is highest]."

Scatterometer observations from satellites have proven invaluable for understanding ocean winds. A scatterometer is a type of radar that bounces microwaves off Earth's surface and measures the strength and direction of return signals. The more uneven the surface, the stronger the return signals. On the ocean, higher winds create larger waves and therefore stronger return signals. The return signal also tells scientists the direction of the wind, because waves line up in the direction the wind is blowing.

The reason spaceborne scatterometers haven't helped much with the specific question of daily wind cycles has to do with their orbits. All modern instruments have been in sun-synchronous orbits, in which a satellite is always oriented at the same angle relative to the sun. In this type of orbit, a satellite passes over every location at the same fixed times, for example, 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. over the equator. The resulting data can't throw much light on the question of how winds develop over the course of a day.

For six months in 2003, there were two scatterometers of the same type in space, collecting data at different times of day. From that data, Gille and her colleagues were able to recognize some patterns. "We could see, for example, how sea breezes converge over a large body of water like the Mediterranean or Black Sea. It was a nice window into diurnal variability, but we only had six months of data." That's inadequate to observe differences between summer and winter patterns, among other things.

In its berth on the space station, the two-year RapidScat mission, built and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, will be the first modern spaceborne scatterometer not locked in a sun-synchronous orbit. Each time the space station passes over a spot on Earth, it's at a different time of day than on the previous visit.

RapidScat came into being because in 2009, NASA's previous scatterometer mission, an instrument called SeaWinds on the QuikScat satellite, stopped collecting ocean wind data following more than a decade of faithful service. Its antenna rotation mechanism wore out and stopped working. While the SeaWinds instrument itself is still functioning, its view is limited to a very narrow beam.

During QuikScat's decade of full operation, the National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center, U.S. Navy, and other users relied on its data (among other data sources) to produce forecasts and warnings of everything from El Niño to hurricanes to iceberg movements. "When QuikScat stopped spinning, the user community began looking at ways to get a scatterometer going again," said Stacey Boland, a RapidScat project systems engineer at JPL.

In 2012, NASA's space station program manager offered scientists at JPL a berth for a replacement scatterometer and a free ride into space in 2014 on a scheduled commercial cargo mission to resupply the space station. "The community had extensively evaluated many types of opportunities and was well aware of the benefit of the space station orbit," Boland said.

The entire instrument has been designed and built in the two years since then - hence the adjective "Rapid" in its name. RapidScat's instrument is essentially the same as the durable SeaWinds instrument on QuikScat. RapidScat will give QuikScat's user community the same vital data, and eventually it will supply the long-awaited answers on diurnal winds.

Boland explained how the RapidScat data will accumulate to provide those answers. "We get near-complete spatial coverage every two days over the range of latitudes observable from the space station." (The station orbit ranges from 51.6 degrees north to 51.6 degrees south.) "The coverage at any particular spot is at a slightly different local time of day on each orbit. In about two months, we will have sampled 24 hours of local time at each spot."

Once RapidScat has gathered enough cycles of observations, Gille said, "When we average the data, it will tell us what the average conditions are and how much of the observed wind looks like a diurnal pattern."

Gille added, "We're very interested in putting time into an analysis to understand how diurnal winds change from season to season or year to year. Understanding the variability of these processes is a critical part of understanding weather."

For more information about ISS-RapidScat, visit:

RapidScat is the third of five NASA Earth science missions scheduled to be launched this year, the most new NASA Earth-observing mission launches in the same year in more than a decade. NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet. For more information about NASA's Earth science activities in 2014, visit:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Above: A 2005 image of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico from NASA's QuikScat scatterometer shows the kind of ocean-wind data that ISS-RapidScat will provide. In this image, the highest wind speeds are shown in purple and barbs indicate wind direction. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 Using sand to improve battery performance

July 8, 2014 - Researchers have created a lithium ion battery that outperforms the current industry standard by three times. The key material: sand. Yes, sand. Researchers are now focused on using silicon at the nanoscale, or billionths of a meter, level as a replacement for graphite.

"This is the holy grail - a low cost, non-toxic, environmentally friendly way to produce high performance lithium ion battery anodes," said Zachary Favors, a graduate student working with Cengiz and Mihri Ozkan, both engineering professors at UC Riverside.

The idea came to Favors six months ago. He was relaxing on the beach after surfing in San Clemente, Calif. when he picked up some sand, took a close look at it and saw it was made up primarily of quartz, or silicon dioxide.

His research is centered on building better lithium ion batteries, primarily for personal electronics and electric vehicles. He is focused on the anode, or negative side of the battery. Graphite is the current standard material for the anode, but as electronics have become more powerful graphite's ability to be improved has been virtually tapped out.

Researchers are now focused on using silicon at the nanoscale, or billionths of a meter, level as a replacement for graphite. The problem with nanoscale silicon is that it degrades quickly and is hard to produce in large quantities.

Favors set out to solve both these problems. He researched sand to find a spot in the United States where it is found with a high percentage of quartz. That took him to the Cedar Creek Reservoir, east of Dallas, where he grew up.

Sand in hand, he came back to the lab at UC Riverside and milled it down to the nanometer scale, followed by a series of purification steps changing its color from brown to bright white, similar in color and texture to powdered sugar.

After that, he ground salt and magnesium, both very common elements found dissolved in sea water into the purified quartz. The resulting powder was then heated. With the salt acting as a heat absorber, the magnesium worked to remove the oxygen from the quartz, resulting in pure silicon.

The Ozkan team was pleased with how the process went. And they also encountered an added positive surprise. The pure nano-silicon formed in a very porous 3-D silicon sponge like consistency. That porosity has proved to be the key to improving the performance of the batteries built with the nano-silicon.

The improved performance could mean expanding the expected lifespan of silicon-based electric vehicle batteries up to 3 times or more, which would be significant for consumers, considering replacement batteries cost thousands of dollars. For cell phones or tablets, it could mean having to recharge every three days, instead of every day.

The findings were just published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Now, the Ozkan team is trying to produce larger quantities of the nano-silicon beach sand and is planning to move from coin-size batteries to pouch-size batteries that are used in cell phones.

Zachary Favors, Wei Wang, Hamed Hosseini Bay, Zafer Mutlu, Kazi Ahmed, Chueh Liu, Mihrimah Ozkan, Cengiz S. Ozkan. Scalable Synthesis of Nano-Silicon from Beach Sand for Long Cycle Life Li-ion Batteries. Scientific Reports, 2014; 4 DOI: 10.1038/srep05623 photo: From left, (b) unpurified sand, (c) purified sand, and (d) vials of unpurified sand, purified sand, and nano silicon.

Credit: Image courtesy of University of California - Riverside

Golf Lightning 

 Copyright Pittwater Online News 2014. All Rights Reserved. 

How Good Old Fashioned Courtesy and Acknowledgement of Others Counts in Honduras

 Nobel laureates, luminaries to launch new home of HIV research - 08 July 2014

Some of the world’s leading researchers in HIV will converge on UNSW for the launch of the Kirby Institute’s new facilities and a major symposium on the global challenges in infectious disease.

The NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research, Jillian Skinner, will officially open the new headquarters on the UNSW campus on Wednesday 16 July.

The new facilities mark a significant shift for researchers who for decades were based around Darlinghurst, the epicentre of Sydney’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.

Among the dignitaries attending is French Nobel laureate Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who co-discovered HIV as the cause of AIDS. UNSW will confer on Professor Barré-Sinoussi an Honorary Doctorate of Medicine, honoris causa.

The building launch will be followed by the Kirby Institute’s one-day symposium Global Challenges in Infectious Disease (Thursday 17 July).

Presenters include Professor Barré-Sinoussi, Australian Nobel laureate Peter Doherty, Kirby Institute Director Professor David Cooper and Professor Myron Cohen, Director of the University of North Carolina’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases.

Other symposium highlights include:

Release of Annual Surveillance Report on HIV & Annual Report of Trends in Behaviour

Panel discussion: Condemn the condoms: The drugs are all we need to prevent HIV (facilitated by ABC Radio National’s Dr Norman Swan)

Photo: The revamped Wallace Wurth building, new home to the Kirby Institute

 New smartphone app offers easy and inexpensive solution for hearing screening

July 8, 2014 - A lightweight, automated and easy-to-use mobile health solution called hearScreen is ideal for developing countries and use in rural areas. An article published in the International Journal of Audiology on 7 July 2014 reports on an innovative smartphone app that will make it easier and cheaper to screen people, including young children and the elderly, for hearing loss.The project was led by Prof De Wet Swanepoel from the University of Pretoria (UP), South Africa, in partnership with colleagues at UP and in Australia.

Data from the World Health Organisation shows that more than 5% of all the people in the world (about 360 million) suffer from permanent disabling hearing loss, and more than 32 million of these are children. In developing areas, up to 80% of people with hearing loss have no prospect of early detection.

"Hearing is the cornerstone for developing language, for learning to speak and to communicate," says Prof Swanepoel, an audiologist at the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at the University of Pretoria. He is an expert in the early detection of hearing problems in babies and children. "Even minor hearing defects can have a major impact on language development and the academic performance of children, because they simply get lost within the noisy environs of a classroom."

With the introduction of a new South African health policy in 2012 that requires all Grade 1 learners - more than 1 million every year - to be screened for hearing loss, Prof Swanepoel saw the need to develop a mobile and easy-to-use hearing screening device that could replace the cumbersome and heavy apparatus that are currently used.

The newly developed app adheres to international calibration standards, can be loaded onto a low-cost, smartphone, is automated, and continuously monitors background noise to ensure reliable testing. A screening takes only one minute and the data can be uploaded via the mobile phone network to a centralised site for evaluation and recommendations.

"Anyone who knows how to operate a mobile phone can set up the 'hearScreen' device, says Prof Swanepoel, who is also an executive board member of the International Society of Audiology. "It significantly improves and alters current models of school and community-based identification of hearing loss."

"Africa needs cost-effective and sustainable methods with which to identify hearing loss in young children," he adds. "Mobile health technologies such as this app are becoming more and more important in taking healthcare to the people who would otherwise not have access to hearing screening."

Several field trials are currently underway in schools and primary health care settings. Findings demonstrate screening outcomes equivalent to the current gold standard. The user-friendly interface and affordability opens up new models for early access to hearing loss detection within underserved communities.

De Wet Swanepoel, Hermanus C. Myburgh, David M. Howe, Faheema Mahomed, Robert H. Eikelboom. Smartphone hearing screening with integrated quality control and data management. International Journal of Audiology, 2014; 1 DOI:10.3109/14992027.2014.920965 Photo: A hearing test that is child’s play: Prof De Wet Swanepoel testing a four year old with hearScreen, a smart phone app. Credit: Image courtesy of University of Pretoria

Health papers published this week:

Animal vaccines should guide malaria research, experts say

July 7, 2014 (University of Adelaide) Research into vaccines for malaria in humans should be guided by the success shown in producing effective vaccines for malaria-like diseases in animals, according to a University of Adelaide study.

In an article in the journal Parasitology, veterinarian and disease researcher Associate Professor Milton McAllister says there are many effective vaccines for diseases in animals caused by close relatives of the parasites that cause malaria (called protozoans).

"In contrast, there are no vaccines available for malaria or any other protozoal disease of humans - despite great need and considerable effort," he says. Associate Professor McAllister is with the University's School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences.

"There is one vaccine in development for malaria - but that requires three inoculations and only about half the people vaccinated are protected, and that protection only lasts for about six months. Vaccines for similar diseases in cattle and sheep, on the other hand, require only one inoculation and provide solid immunity that endures for more than a year and often covers the life of the animal."

The World Health Organization reports that malaria kills more than 600,000 people a year out of about 200 million infections.

"For human malaria, great emphasis has been placed on creating new types of futuristic vaccines using small pieces of DNA and protein from the disease-causing parasite," says Associate Professor McAllister. "There is a great desire to make malaria vaccines very safe - as they should be - but that approach has just not been effective."

In contrast, vaccines for animals contain entire organisms in a live but weakened form. "Using live vaccines has produced considerable success in a range of malaria-like diseases in animals," he says.

A few of the many successful examples in animals include several vaccines for blood parasites of livestock such as babesiosis, which has seen greater than 90% reduction of the disease in Australia and other countries, tropical theileriosis in Southern Europe and Asia, and East Coast Fever in Africa.

"Using live organisms and classical vaccine technology has worked very well in veterinary medicine, providing enduring immunity against a range of serious diseases," Associate Professor McAllister says. "Human medicine is missing significant benefits by not paying greater attention to veterinary knowledge.

"Funding for human malaria research should place greater emphasis on creating vaccines that contain live but weakened parasites. This classical vaccine approach should be highly effective. Cutting-edge techniques are available to ensure that these vaccines will be safe."

MILTON M. MCALLISTER. Successful vaccines for naturally occurring protozoal diseases of animals should guide human vaccine research. A review of protozoal vaccines and their designs. Parasitology, 2014; 141 (05): 624 DOI:10.1017/S0031182013002060

HIV study leads to insights into deadly infection

July 8, 2014 - Research led by the University of Adelaide has provided new insights into how the HIV virus greatly boosts its chances of spreading infection, and why HIV is so hard to combat. HIV infects human immune cells by turning the infection-fighting proteins of these cells into a "backdoor key" that lets the virus in. Recent research has found that another protein is involved as well. A peptide in semen that sticks together and forms structures known as "amyloid fibrils" enhances the virus's infection rate by up to an astonishing 10,000 times.

How and why these fibrils enhance infection and cause toxicity in the body's cells remains unknown.

The HIV fibrils - known as "semen-derived enhancers of viral infection" (SEVI) - have been studied by chemistry and pharmacology researchers at the University of Adelaide. The results of this work have now been published online in the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta.

"Amyloid fibrils play an important role in a number of prominent diseases, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and others, and it's absolutely essential that we understand how they work if we have any hope of developing new drugs to stop them," says lead author Dr Ian Musgrave, from the University's School of Medical Sciences.

In laboratory studies, the team found that the HIV fibrils are toxic towards cells from the nervous system. They also found that even when the fibril is broken apart, its constituent elements continue to be toxic.

"This suggests that you can't just prevent one part of SEVI from aggregating and being toxic to cells. You need to shut the whole thing down or stop it from forming in the first place," Dr Musgrave says.

Researchers also tested the fibrils against another major type of body tissue, epithelial cells, and found they were not toxic to these cells.

"Epithelial cells are a major barrier to HIV entry. There have been theories that the fibrils can damage the epithelial layer, making it much easier for the virus to enter the body and infect the immune cells, but our findings show that healthy epithelial cells are resistant," Dr Musgrave says.

"This is an important finding because it could mean that the toxicity from the fibrils is dependent on the type of tissue they come in contact with," Dr Musgrave says.

"We now have a better understanding of the role of these protein enhancers in HIV infection. However, it's clear that much more research is needed in this area," he says.

Abigail K. Elias, Denis Scanlon, Ian F. Musgrave, John A. Carver. SEVI, the semen enhancer of HIV infection along with fragments from its central region, form amyloid fibrils that are toxic to neuronal cells. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Proteins and Proteomics, 2014; 1844 (9): 1591 DOI:10.1016/j.bbapap.2014.06.006

Extreme obesity may shorten life expectancy up to 14 years

July 8, 2014 - Adults with extreme obesity have increased risks of dying at a young age from cancer and many other causes including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and kidney and liver diseases, according to results of an analysis of data pooled from 20 large studies of people from three countries. The study, led by researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, found that people with class III (or extreme) obesity had a dramatic reduction in life expectancy compared with people of normal weight.

The findings appeared July 8, 2014, in PLOS Medicine.

"While once a relatively uncommon condition, the prevalence of class III, or extreme, obesity is on the rise. In the United States, for example, six percent of adults are now classified as extremely obese, which, for a person of average height, is more than 100 pounds over the recommended range for normal weight," said Cari Kitahara, Ph.D., Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, NCI, and lead author of the study. "Prior to our study, little had been known about the risk of premature death associated with extreme obesity."

In the study, researchers classified participants according to their body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of total body fat and is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared. BMI classifications (kilogram/meter-squared) are:

Normal weight: 18.5-24.9

Overweight: 25.0- 29.9

Class I obesity: 30.0-34.9

Class II obesity: 35.0-39.9

Class III obesity: 40.0 or higher

The 20 studies that were analyzed included adults from the United States, Sweden and Australia. These groups form a major part of the NCI Cohort Consortium, which is a large-scale partnership that identifies risk factors for cancer death. After excluding individuals who had ever smoked or had a history of certain diseases, the researchers evaluated the risk of premature death overall and the risk of premature death from specific causes in more than 9,500 individuals who were class III obese and 304,000 others who were classified as normal weight.

The researchers found that the risk of dying overall and from most major health causes rose continuously with increasing BMI within the class III obesity group. Statistical analyses of the pooled data indicated that the excess numbers of deaths in the class III obesity group were mostly due to heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Years of life lost ranged from 6.5 years for participants with a BMI of 40-44.9 to 13.7 years for a BMI of 55-59.9. To provide context, the researchers found that the number of years of life lost for class III obesity was equal or higher than that of current (versus never) cigarette smokers among normal-weight participants in the same study.

The accuracy of the study findings is limited by the use of mostly self-reported height and weight measurements and by the use of BMI as the sole measure of obesity. Nevertheless, the researchers noted, the results highlight the need to develop more effective interventions to combat the growing public health problem of extreme obesity.

"Given our findings, it appears that class III obesity is increasing and may soon emerge as a major cause of early death in this and other countries worldwide," said Patricia Hartge, Sc.D., Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, and senior author of the study.

Kitahara CM, et al. Association between Class III Obesity (BMI of 40-59 kg/m) and Mortality: A Pooled Analysis of 20 Prospective Studies. PLOS Medicine, July 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001673.

No rest for the bleary: Interrupted sleep can be as physically detrimental as no sleep at all

July 8, 2014 - The familiar cry in the night, followed by a blind shuffle to the crib, a feeding, a diaper change, and a final retreat back into oblivion - every hour on the hour. Such is the sleep pattern of most new parents, who report feeling more exhausted in the morning than when they went to bed the night before. Now, in the first study of its kind, Prof. Avi Sadeh and a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences explain why interrupted sleep can be as physically detrimental as no sleep at all. In the study, published in the journalSleep Medicine, Prof. Sadeh and his colleagues Michal Kahn, Shimrit Fridenson, Reut Lerer, and Yair Ben-Haim establish a causal link between interrupted sleep patterns and compromised cognitive abilities, shortened attention spans, and negative moods. The researchers discovered that interrupted sleep is equivalent to no more than four consecutive hours of sleep.

"The sleep of many parents is often disrupted by external sources such as a crying baby demanding care during the night. Doctors on call, who may receive several phone calls a night, also experience disruptions," said Prof. Sadeh. "These night wakings could be relatively short - only five to ten minutes - but they disrupt the natural sleep rhythm. The impact of such night wakings on an individual's daytime alertness, mood, and cognitive abilities had never been studied. Our study is the first to demonstrate seriously deleterious cognitive and emotional effects."

Putting Mum and Dad in a bad mood

"In the process of advising these parents, it struck me that the role of multiple night wakings had never been systematically assessed," said Prof. Sadeh, who directs a sleep clinic at TAU, where he advises exhausted and desperate parents on how to cope with their children's persistent night wakings. "Many previous studies had shown an association, but none had established a causal link. Our study demonstrates that induced night wakings, in otherwise normal individuals, clearly lead to compromised attention and negative mood."

The study was conducted on student volunteers at TAU's School of Psychological Sciences. Their sleep patterns were monitored at home using wristwatch-like devices that detected when they were asleep and when they were awake. The students slept a normal eight-hour night, then experienced a night in which they were awakened four times by phone calls and told to complete a short computer task before going back to sleep after 10-15 minutes of wakefulness. The students were asked each following morning to complete certain computer tasks to assess alertness and attention, as well as to fill out questionnaires to determine their mood. The experiment showed a direct link between compromised attention, negative mood, and disrupted sleep - after only one night of frequent interruptions.

Paying a high price

"Our study shows the impact of only one disrupted night," said Prof. Sadeh. "But we know that these effects accumulate and therefore the functional price new parents - who awaken three to ten times a night for months on end - pay for common infant sleep disturbance is enormous. Besides the physical effects of interrupted sleep, parents often develop feelings of anger toward their infants and then feel guilty about these negative feelings.

"Sleep research has focused in the last 50 years on sleep deprivation, and practically ignored the impact of night-wakings, which is a pervasive phenomenon for people from many walks of life. I hope that our study will bring this to the attention of scientists and clinicians, who should recognize the price paid by individuals who have to endure frequent night-wakings."

Prof. Sadeh is currently researching interventions for infant sleep disturbances to reduce the detrimental effects of disrupted sleep on parents.

Michal Kahn, Shimrit Fridenson, Reut Lerer, Yair Bar-Haim, Avi Sadeh. Effects of one night of induced night-wakings versus sleep restriction on sustained attention and mood: a pilot study. Sleep Medicine, 2014; 15 (7): 825 DOI:10.1016/j.sleep.2014.03.016

New compounds that could affect circadian rhythm uncovered in study

July 8, 2014 - Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have discovered a surprising new role for a pair of compounds - which have the potential to alter circadian rhythm, the complex physiological process that responds to a 24-hour cycle of light and dark and is present in most living things. At least one of these compounds could be developed as a chemical probe to uncover new therapeutic approaches to a range of disorders, including diabetes and obesity.

The study, which was published online ahead of print by the Journal of Biological Chemistry, focuses on a group of proteins known as REV-ERBs, a superfamily that plays an important role in the regulation of circadian physiology, metabolism and immune function.

The new study shows that the two compounds, cobalt protoporphyrin IX (CoPP) and zinc protoporphyrin IX (ZnPP), bind directly to REV-ERBs.

REV-ERBs are normally regulated by heme, a molecule that binds to hemoglobin, helps transport oxygen from the bloodstream to cells and plays a role in producing cellular energy. While heme activates REV-ERB, CoPP and ZnPP inhibit it.

"These compounds are like heme, but when you swap out their metal centers their functions are different," said Doug Kojetin, a TSRI associate professor who led the study. "This makes us think that the key is the chemistry of the metal ion itself. Altering the chemistry of this metal center may be an opportune way to target REV-ERB for diabetes and obesity."

Kojetin and his colleagues recently demonstrated that synthetic REV-ERB agonists, like the new compounds, reduce body weight in mice that were obese due to diet.

Edna Matta-Camacho, Subhashis Banerjee et al. Structure of REV-ERB_ Ligand-binding Domain Bound to a Porphyrin Antagonist. Journal of Biological Chemistry, July 2014 DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M113.545111 jbc.M113.545111

Removing gall bladder for suspected common duct stone shows benefit

July 8, 2014 - Among patients with possible common duct stones, removal of the gall bladder, compared with endoscopic assessment of the common duct followed by gall bladder removal, resulted in a shorter length of hospital stay without increased illness and fewer common duct examinations, according to a study in the July 9 issue of JAMA

Many common duct stones eventually pass into the duodenum (a section of the small intestine just below the stomach), making preoperative common duct investigations unnecessary. Conversely, a strategy of gall bladder removal first can lead to the discovery of a retained common duct stone during surgery. It is uncertain what is the best initial strategy for treating this condition, according to background information in the article.

Pouya Iranmanesh, M.D., of Geneva University Hospital and Faculty of Medicine, Geneva, Switzerland, and colleagues randomly assigned 100 patients with possible common duct stones to undergo immediate laparoscopic cholecystectomy (gall bladder removal) with intraoperative cholangiogram (an imaging technique using a dye injection to evaluate the common duct) or endoscopic common duct evaluation followed by cholecystectomy, with patient follow-up of 6 months.

Patients who underwent cholecystectomy as a first step (study group) had a significantly shorter median length of hospital stay (5 days vs 8 days) compared to patients in the control group. In addition, the total number of common duct investigations (various procedures to look for stones in the common duct) performed in the study group was smaller (25 vs 71). Overall, complications were observed in 8 percent of patients in the study group and 14 percent in the control group. There was no significant difference in illness or quality of life measures between groups.

The authors note that overall, 60 percent of patients in the study group did not need any common duct investigation after the intraoperative cholangiogram. "Thus, many intermediate-risk patients undergo unnecessary preoperative common duct procedures."

The researchers add that although a thorough cost analysis was beyond the scope of this study, the significantly shorter length of hospital stay and fewer common duct investigations in the study group, coupled with the similar complication rates between the 2 groups, predicts substantial savings when using a cholecystectomy-first strategy.

"If these findings are confirmed, initial cholecystectomy with intraoperative cholangiogram may be a preferred approach," the authors conclude.

Pouya Iranmanesh, Jean-Louis Frossard, Béatrice Mugnier-Konrad, Philippe Morel, Pietro Majno, Thai Nguyen-Tang, Thierry Berney, Gilles Mentha, Christian Toso.Initial Cholecystectomy vs Sequential Common Duct Endoscopic Assessment and Subsequent Cholecystectomy for Suspected Gallstone Migration. JAMA, 2014; 312 (2): 137 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2014.7587

New approach to identify genes poised to respond in asthma patients

July 8, 2014 – In a study published in the scientific journal Nature Immunology, a group at the La Jolla Institute (LJI) led by Pandurangan Vijayanand, Ph.D. identify new genes that likely contribute to asthma, a disease that currently affects over 200 million people world wide. An organism's genetic material, also known as its genome, can be divided into small sections or 'neighborhoods.' Scientists can determine which genetic neighborhoods in a cell are active, or primed for gene production, by looking for a marker on the genome called an enhancer. An enhancer can increase the production of genes in its immediate neighborhood. The goal of the published study is to find genes whose neighborhoods are active in diseased cells, but inactive in healthy cells. Genes that are in active neighborhoods in diseased cells are likely to contribute to disease, and can potentially be targeted with drug treatments.

In order to find genetic neighborhoods that are active in asthmatic disease, the scientists in Vijayanand's group focus their experiments on memory cells, which develop abnormally in asthma patients. Memory cells are responsible for quickly responding to foreign substances called antigens that the host has been exposed to previously. Air passage inflammation, which characterizes asthma, is mediated by an overactive response to inhaled antigens by memory cells.

By applying his technique in small populations of abnormal memory cells, Vijayanand highlights 33 genetic neighborhoods that are highly active in diseased cells, but inactive in healthy cells, shifting the focus of asthma research to specific genes that are located in these neighborhoods.

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) that are less precise, have previously identified 1,500 potential target regions associated with asthmatic disease. According to Vijayanand, these targets are too numerous to study individually, and as a result, the field has remained focused on just a few molecules for discovery of new asthma treatments. Using their approach, Vijayanand's team searched the 1,500 targets for those that have the greatest likelihood of contributing to asthmatic disease. "Our unbiased and hypothesis-free approach has revealed a staggering but manageable number of new molecules that could play a role in asthma, and thus are potentially novel therapeutic targets," said Vijayanand.

Vijayanand and his team completed the study using different amounts of cells from the blood of healthy individuals and asthmatic patients. They did so in order to determine the smallest number of cells that were required for their technique, and found that it works with as little as 10,000 cells, which is significantly less than the millions of cells required to use other methods. Vijayanand envisions using this technique in situations where access to cells is limited, such as tumor biopsy for cancer.

The frequency of asthma is rising across the developed world as well as in several large developing countries. Treatment for asthma usually includes long-term nonspecific medication, as there is no cure at present.

Vijayanand says this study provides information that can be the starting point for many avenues of research and treatment. He says, "our study provides a rich and comprehensive resource that will be useful to the scientific community, enabling investigators to conduct their own detailed studies of the functional significance of the novel genes and enhancers that we have identified."

Grégory Seumois, Lukas Chavez, Anna Gerasimova, Matthias Lienhard, Nada Omran, Lukas Kalinke, Maria Vedanayagam, Asha Purnima V Ganesan, Ashu Chawla, Ratko Djukanović, K Mark Ansel, Bjoern Peters, Anjana Rao, Pandurangan Vijayanand. Epigenomic analysis of primary human T cells reveals enhancers associated with TH2 memory cell differentiation and asthma susceptibility. Nature Immunology, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/ni.2937

Variations in key gene predict cancer patients' risk for radiation-induced toxicity

July 8, 2014 - Key genetic variants may affect how cancer patients respond to radiation treatments, according to a study published in Nature Genetics. The research team, which included researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, found that variations in the TANC1 gene are associated with a greater risk for radiation-driven side effects in prostate cancer patients, which include incontinence, impotence and diarrhea.

The current results are based on a genome-wide association study, a type of study in which researchers examine numerous genetic variants to see if any of them are associated with a certain type of complication, which could sometimes emerge years after treatment was completed.

"Our findings, which were replicated in two additional patient groups, represent a significant step towards developing personalized treatment plans for prostate cancer patients," said Barry S. Rosenstein, PhD, Professor, Radiation Oncology, Genetics and Genomic Sciences, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the lead Mount Sinai investigator on the study. "Within five years, through the use of a predictive genomic test that will be created using the data obtained in the recent study, it may be possible to optimize treatment for a large number of cancer patients."

For the study, Dr. Rosenstein and his team obtained blood samples from nearly 400 patients who were receiving radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer. The blood samples were screened for roughly one million genetic markers, and each patient was monitored for at least two years to track incidents of side effects from the radiation. Data analysis showed which genetic markers were consistently associated with the development of complications following radiotherapy.

"The next step is to validate the results, and see if the same markers predict similar outcomes in patients with other forms of cancer," said Dr. Rosenstein. Using the genomic test being developed, treatment plans can be adjusted to minimize adverse effects thereby allowing for an improved quality life for many cancer survivors.

Laura Fachal, Antonio Gómez-Caamaño, Gillian C Barnett, Paula Peleteiro, Ana M Carballo, Patricia Calvo-Crespo, Sarah L Kerns, Manuel Sánchez-García, Ramón Lobato-Busto, Leila Dorling, Rebecca M Elliott, David P Dearnaley, Matthew R Sydes, Emma Hall, Neil G Burnet, Ángel Carracedo, Barry S Rosenstein, Catharine M L West, Alison M Dunning, Ana Vega. A three-stage genome-wide association study identifies a susceptibility locus for late radiotherapy toxicity at 2q24.1. Nature Genetics, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/ng.3020

Possible pathway for inhibiting liver, colon cancer found

July 8, 2014 – A group of scientists from Spain, the UK and the United States has revealed the structure of a protein complex involved in liver and colon cancers. Both of these types of cancer are of significant social and clinical relevance as in 2012 alone, liver cancer was responsible for the second highest mortality rate worldwide, with colon cancer appearing third in the list.

The international team from CIC bioGUNE, the University of Liverpool and the US research centre USC-UCLA has successfully unravelled the mechanism by which two proteins, MATα2 and MATβ, bind to each other, thereby promoting the reproduction of tumour cells in liver and colon cancers. The study was announced in the latest issue of the open access journal IUCrJ published by the IUCr.

This structural data discovery opens up additional research opportunities into drugs that can act on the binding of these proteins, thereby possibly inhibiting cancer cell growth.

As a result of this discovery, it is now known which part of their respective structures can be blocked to prevent these proteins from joining together. This is very important as when these proteins bind to each other, the production of a molecule known as SAMe, which plays a role in uncontrolled tumour cell growth, increases considerably. Though the relationship between SAMe and tumour growth has been known for some time, this molecule also has other important functions inside the cell that cannot be altered and there is currently no way of acting against it without affecting these other life-sustaining functions.

The good news is that MATα2 and MATβ are only overexpressed in adults with tumours therefore representing an excellent therapeutic target which could open the door to the creation of highly targeted drugs that act exclusively by blocking those regions that allow their mutual binding rather than attacking other regions of the body.

The CIC bioGUNE researcher Adriana Rojas, who led this study, mentioned during interview "Many years have passed since it was first understood which proteins produce SAMe and how the levels of this molecule affect cancer cell growth, and we have now shown that the complex between MATα2 and MATβ is a possible therapeutic target."

Ben Murray, Svetlana V. Antonyuk, Alberto Marina, Sebastiaan M. Van Liempd, Shelly C. Lu, Jose M. Mato, S. Samar Hasnain, Adriana L. Rojas. Structure and function study of the complex that synthesizesS-adenosylmethionine. IUCrJ, 2014; 1 (4): 240 DOI: 10.1107/S2052252514012585

Wet wraps cut need for drugs in kids with eczema

July 8, 2014 - The number of children with atopic dermatitis, often referred to as eczema, is on the rise. Some estimate that one in five children in the U.S. now suffers from the painful, itchy skin condition. In an effort to control their symptoms, many children are prescribed powerful medications like immunosuppressants or topical steroids. "Those medications can be effective, but they also can be a cause for concern for a lot of parents, especially when they're used long term," said Mark Boguniewicz, MD, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at National Jewish Health in Denver. "Many families worry about the side effects those drugs might have on their child's blood pressure, or on their bones and kidneys," said Boguniewicz. "The problem is, there aren't many effective alternatives."

To help find simpler, safer treatment options, researchers at National Jewish Health evaluated an approach known as wet wrap therapy. First described in 1987, wet wrap therapy has rarely been studied and has never been used as a standardized treatment for children with atopic dermatitis. "Hopefully, that's about to change," said Boguniewicz.

The technique involves just a few simple steps. First, a child soaks in a bathtub of warm water for about 20 minutes. After the child is removed from the tub, topical medications are quickly applied to eczematous areas and creams or ointments to the clear skin while the skin is still damp. . Then, the child is immediately dressed in wet clothing or wraps to seal in the moisture, followed by a layer of dry clothing. After at least two hours the clothing is removed.

It seems like a fairly simple and straightforward approach, but a new study co-authored by Boguniewicz, Noreen Nicol, PhD, and Mary Klinnert, PhD, in the July issue of theJournal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice shows it can have profound effects. After being treated by health care teams at National Jewish Health, children who underwent in-patient therapy saw an average reduction in symptoms of 71 percent, they maintained healthy skin a month after returning home, and, perhaps most important, did so without relying solely on medications typically prescribed to these patients.

"We took a step up, step down sort of approach to managing their symptoms in this study," said Boguniewicz. "We would apply the wet wraps two to three times a day, depending on the severity of the case, then we would taper the therapy down and only treat the affected areas as time went on," said Boguniewicz. "Over roughly four days we saw dramatic improvements."

In all, 72 children took part in the study, the largest ever for wet wrap therapy, and for the first time their conditions were quantified for their severity using SCORAD (Scoring Atopic Dermatitis) and ADQ (AD Quickscore) measurements. The most severe cases were given a score of 50 and over, moderate cases were classified between 25-49 and mild cases were those that scored less than 25.

"When these children arrived their mean score was right around 50, so they were severe cases," said Boguniewicz. "When they left, their mean score was less than 15. That kind of improvement, in just a short amount of time, was very, very dramatic," he said.

Lucie Karazim, a 4-year-old from Indianapolis, IN, was one of the children who took part in the study. Diagnosed with eczema just four months after she was born, her mother Heather says they saw several doctors and specialists trying to find relief. "It seems like the more doctors we saw, the more we were just adding medications," said Karazim. "We got to the point where we were taking some pretty potent steroids and still nothing was fixing the problem."

In 2012, Lucie was referred to National Jewish Health, and her mother volunteered her for the wet wrap study. "It was very labor intensive the two weeks we were at National Jewish Health, but it was worth it," she said. "The treatment just makes sense, and the best part is, we were able to back off a lot of our medications when we left and established a new baseline for her," said Karazim.

But Dr. Boguniewicz cautions that there is a technique that needs to be followed in order for wet wrap therapy to work. "You can't just try this on your own because overuse can do more harm than good," he said. "You first want to familiarize yourself with the concept at our website and talk to a specialist about it. We have a lot of material that can help you determine if this is the right approach for your child," he said.

To learn more about wet wrap therapy, also known as soak-and-seal, see videos:

Noreen Heer Nicol, Mark Boguniewicz, Matthew Strand, Mary D. Klinnert. Wet Wrap Therapy in Children with Moderate to Severe Atopic Dermatitis in a Multidisciplinary Treatment Program. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, 2014; 2 (4): 400 DOI: 10.1016/j.jaip.2014.04.009

Treatment-resistant hypertension requires proper diagnosis

July 8, 2014 - High blood pressure - also known as hypertension - is widespread, but treatment often fails. One in five people with hypertension does not respond to therapy. This is frequently due to inadequate diagnosis, as Franz Weber and Manfred Anlauf point out in the current issue of Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. 

If a patient's blood pressure is not controlled by treatment, this can be due to a number of reasons. Often it is the medication the patient is on. Some patients may be taking other medicines - in addition to their antihypertensive therapy - which increase blood pressure as a side effect. In these cases, the treatment of the high blood pressure appears to be ineffective, but all that would be needed is some adjustment to the medication regimen. Then there is diet. Licorice, for example, does increase blood pressure; so eating too much of it may reduce the effect of the antihypertensive therapy. Likewise, salt-sensitive patients may increase their blood pressure by eating salt; thus they have to keep this in mind when seasoning their dishes.

Besides drugs and food, certain symptoms may interfere with antihypertensive therapy. Once the underlying condition has been successfully treated, blood pressure control does often improve. An example for this is the sleep apnea syndrome: Apart from sleep problems and fatigue, it makes high blood pressure worse. Here, most patients find their blood pressure improved with targeted treatment of the apnea and quite often the antihypertensive medication can be reduced.

Thus rigorous diagnostic evaluation is key to a successful treatment of hypertension. In their current study the authors expect that with this approach almost half of the cases classified as treatment-resistant hypertension could be treated.

Weber F, Anlauf M. Treatment resistant hypertension— investigation and conservative management. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, July 2014 DOI:10.3238/arztebl.2014.0425

Olfactory receptors in the skin: Sandalwood scent facilitates wound healing, skin regeneration

July 8, 2014 - Skin cells possess an olfactory receptor for sandalwood scent, as researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have discovered. Their data indicate that the cell proliferation increases and wound healing improves if those receptors are activated. This mechanism constitutes a possible starting point for new drugs and cosmetics. The team headed by Dr Daniela Busse and Prof Dr Dr Dr med habil Hanns Hatt from the Department for Cellphysiology published their report in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

The nose is not the only place where olfactory receptors occur

Humans have approximately 350 different types of olfactory receptors in the nose. The function of those receptors has also been shown to exist in, for example spermatozoa, the prostate, the intestine and the kidneys. The team from Bochum has now discovered them in keratinocytes - cells that form the outermost layer of the skin.

Experiments with cultures of human skin cells

The RUB researchers studied the olfactory receptor that occurs in the skin, namely OR2AT4, and discovered that it is activated by a synthetic sandalwood scent, so-called Sandalore. Sandalwood aroma is frequently used in incense sticks and is a popular component in perfumes. The activated OR2AT4 receptor triggers a calcium-dependent signal pathway. That pathway ensures an increased proliferation and a quicker migration of skin cells - processes which typically facilitate wound healing. In collaboration with the Dermatology Department at the University of Münster, the cell physiologists from Bochum demonstrated that effect in skin cell cultures and skin explants.

Additional olfactory receptors in skin detected

In addition to OR2AT4, the RUB scientists have also found a variety of other olfactory receptors in the skin, the function of which they are planning to characterise more precisely. "The results so far show that they possess therapeutic and cosmetic potential," says Prof Hanns Hatt. "Still, we mustn't forget that concentrated fragrances should be handled with care, until we have ascertained which functions the different types of olfactory receptors in skin cells have."

Daniela Busse, Philipp Kudella, Nana-Maria Grüning, Günter Gisselmann, Sonja Ständer, Thomas Luger, Frank Jacobsen, Lars Steinsträßer, Ralf Paus, Paraskevi Gkogkolou, Markus Böhm, Hanns Hatt, Heike Benecke. A Synthetic Sandalwood Odorant Induces Wound Healing Processes in Human Keratinocytes via the Olfactory Receptor OR2AT4. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2014; DOI:10.1038/JID.2014.273

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.

 Carbon monoxide predicts 'red and dead' future of gas guzzler galaxy

July 8, 2014 - Astronomers have studied the carbon monoxide in a galaxy over 12 billion light years from Earth and discovered that it's running out of gas, quite literally, and headed for a 'red and dead' future. The galaxy, known as ALESS65, was observed by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in 2011 and is one of fewer than 20 known distant galaxies to contain carbon monoxide.

Dr Minh Huynh from The University of Western Australia node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) led the team on their search for galactic carbon monoxide in work published July 9 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

"We're familiar with carbon monoxide here on Earth as the deadly gas that can cause suffocation, but in galaxies it plays an important role in the lifecycle of stars," said Huynh.

"Out of the galaxies that we know contain carbon monoxide, less than 20 are as far away from Earth as ALESS65. Out of the billions of galaxies out there, the detections are very rare!"

Huynh, who grew up in Perth, said that at first astronomers didn't think there could be massive 'red and dead' galaxies in the distant Universe, so studying galaxies heading towards that fate is important to solve the puzzle of their existence.

Using the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA) radio telescope in NSW, Australia, Huynh and the team worked out how much carbon monoxide they could see in ALESS65 and extrapolated that out into how much fuel the galaxy has left -- how much gas it has.

"All galaxies have a certain amount of fuel to make new stars," said Huynh.

"Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has about five billion years before it runs out of fuel and becomes 'red and dead', but ALESS65 is a gas guzzler and only has 10s of millions of years left -- very fast in astronomical terms."

The team also combined their observations of the galaxy with the original data from ALMA to work out how similar ALESS65 is to galaxies nearer to Earth.

"We were able to work out the strength of the UV radiation in ALESS65; it's similar to some 'starbursting' galaxies in the local universe, but the stars in ALESS65 are forming in much larger areas when compared to local galaxies," said Huynh.

The team will now turn their attentions to the search for carbon monoxide in another galaxy near to ALESS65, named ALESS61.

"Finding and studying carbon monoxide in more galaxies will tell us even more about how stars formed in the early days of the Universe and help solve the mystery of far away 'red and dead' galaxies" said Huynh.

ICRAR is a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia with support and funding from the State Government of Western Australia.

M. T. Huynh, A. E. Kimball, R. P. Norris, Ian Smail, K. E. Chow, K. E. K. Coppin, B. H. C. Emonts, R. J. Ivison, V. Smolcic, A. M. Swinbank. Detection of molecular gas in an ALMA [CII]-identified Submillimetre Galaxy at z=4.44. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2014; (accepted) [link]

Picture: Radio waves emitted from ALESS65 as observed by the Australia Telescope Compact Array. Credit: Huynh et al.

 Ancient hedgehog and tapir once inhabited British Columbia

July 8, 2014 - The Earth has experienced many dramatic changes in climate since the dinosaurs went extinct 66 million years ago. One of the warmest periods was the early Eocene Epoch, 50 to 53 million years ago. During this interval, North American mammal communities were quite distinct from those of today. This is illustrated by a study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology that describes an ancient hedgehog and tapir that lived in what is now Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park, British Columbia, some 52 million years ago.

"Within Canada, the only other fossil localities yielding mammals of similar age are from the Arctic, so these fossils from British Columbia help fill a significant geographic gap," said Dr. Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature, a co-author of the study. Other fossils of this age come from Wyoming and Colorado, some 2,700 miles to the south of the Arctic site of Ellesmere Island.

The ancient hedgehog is a species hitherto unknown to science. It is named Silvacola acares, which means "tiny forest dweller," since this minute hedgehog likely had a body length of only 2 to 2.5 inches. The delicate fossil jaw of Silvacola was not freed from the surrounding rock as is typical for fossils. Rather, it was scanned with an industrial, high resolution CT (computed tomography) scanner at Penn State University so it could be studied without risking damage to its tiny teeth. Modern hedgehogs and their relatives are restricted to Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The other mammal discovered at the site, Heptodon, is an ancient relative of modern tapirs, which resemble small rhinos with no horns and a short, mobile, trunk or proboscis.

"Heptodon was about half the size of today's tapirs, and it lacked the short trunk that occurs on later species and their living cousins. Based upon its teeth, it was probably a leaf-eater, which fits nicely with the rainforest environment indicated by the fossil plants at Driftwood Canyon," said Dr. Jaelyn Eberle of the University of Colorado, lead author of the study.

Most of the fossil-bearing rocks at Driftwood Canyon formed on the bottom of an ancient lake and are well-known for their exceptionally well-preserved leaves, insects, and fishes. But no fossils of mammals had ever before been identified at the site. The fieldwork that resulted in these discovered was supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

"The discovery in northern British Columbia of an early cousin to tapirs is intriguing because today's tapirs live in the tropics. Its occurrence, alongside a diversity of fossil plants that indicates a rainforest, supports an idea put forward by others that tapirs and their extinct kin are good indicators of dense forests and high precipitation," said Eberle.

Fossil plants from the site indicate the area seldom experienced freezing temperatures and probably had a climate similar to that of Portland, Oregon, located roughly 700 miles to the south.

"Driftwood Canyon is a window into a lost world - an evolutionary experiment where palms grew beneath spruce trees and the insects included a mixture of Canadian and Australian species. Discovering mammals allows us to paint a more complete picture of this lost world," said Dr. David Greenwood of Brandon University, a co-author of the study. "The early Eocene is a time in the geological past that helps us understand how present day Canada came to have the temperate plants and animals it has today. However, it can also help us understand how the world may change as the global climate continues to warm."

Eberle, J.J., N. Rybczynski, and D.R. Greenwood. Early Eocene mammals from the Driftwood Creek beds, Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park, northern British Columbia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 2014; 34 (4): 739-746

ABove: This image shows the teeth (above and middle) and a side view of the lower jaw (below) of Heptodon, an ancient cousin to tapirs, found in early Eocene (52-million-year-old) rocks of northern British Columbia. This extinct mammal was about half the size of today's tapirs. Credit: Jaelyn J. Eberle, Natalia Rybczynski, and David R. Greenwood