Inbox and Environment News - Issue 176 

 August 17 - 23, 2014: Issue 176

 Why politics needs science

Published on 13 Aug 2014 by UNSW

Excerpt from UNSW Australia's Jack Beale Lecture on the environment - 'No Free Ride To The Future'. Presented by Professor Ian Chubb AC, Australia's Chief Scientist.

 Chief Scientist calls for national science strategy - 14 August 2014 - UNSW

Australia risks being left behind as the only country in the OECD that does not have a national science and technology, or innovation policy, the Chief Scientist has told a capacity UNSW audience.

Delivering the 2014 Jack Beale Lecture on the Global Environment, Professor Ian Chubb called for action to secure the skills, investment and international alliances needed for a better future for the country.

In a speech titled No Free Rides to the Future, Shoring up the Science to Sustain Us, Professor Chubb also called for an end to the “she’ll be right” attitude, saying Australia did not punch above its weight in science “as we so often declare in a fit of misguided and unhelpful enthusiasm”.

While the country did well in its share of the world’s top 1% of cited research papers, its average citation rates were below that of 11 western European countries and the US and Canada, he said.

Australian primary and secondary school students were also only “in the middle of the pack” in terms of science and mathematics literacy.

“Our patenting rates are poor; and the linkages between our researchers and business are among the worst in the OECD. Less than one in three Australian researchers work in industry – half the OECD average of 60% and substantially less than the US,” Professor Chubb said.

“Bluntly, we are middle-of-the-road. I think it is no coincidence that we sit where we do."

Other countries were investing strategically in science “for the long haul”, and Australia needed to catch up.

“We can’t just continue to tinker at the margins. That’s what we have done and it is clear that it isn’t good enough.

“Australia must forge its path in step with the rest of the world. We must remain in the game with a differentiated and readily adaptable economy that supports the aspirations we have for the country. And we must ensure that we bequeath a planet that can sustain the coming generations.”

Professor Chubb said he will release his proposal for a national science strategy in Canberra on 2 September, with recommendations for improving competitiveness, education and training, research, and international engagement.

Two leading UNSW scientists – Dean of Science Professor Merlin Crossley, and Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology – will also be at Parliament House that day.

They will join Professor Chubb and three others at a symposium discussing the role of science in Australia’s future, organised by The Conversation.

In his lecture, Professor Chubb praised the Hon Dr Jack Beale, Australia’s first Minister for the Environment (NSW Parliament), as a man ahead of his time.

“He was that rarest of combinations – a politician with a background in, and passion for, science ... He was a politician who thought about the future,” he said.

Read Professor Chubb's full speech on The Conversation.

 The four pillars of a science strategy for Australia 

Published on 13 Aug 2014 by UNSW

Australia's Chief Scientist outlines his plan for a a long-term science plan. Australia is the only OECD nation not to have a national science strategy and the notion that the country punches above its weight in science is just not true, says Ian Chubb.

Extended excerpt from UNSW Australia's Jack Beale Lecture on the environment - 'No Free Rides To The Future'. 

Presented by Professor Ian Chubb AC, Australia's Chief Scientist.

Great Barrier Reef Report on this week’s Four Corners - ABC

What happens when one of Australia’s most respected journalists turns her attention to what’s going on with our Great Barrier Reef?

Tune in to ABC’s Four Corners on Monday night at 8.30pm (AEST) to find out the results of an in-depth investigation by the multi-award winning reporter Marian Wilkinson.

We know she’s travelled up north to speak with scientists, tourism operators and community members.

We’ve heard she’s also interviewed Queensland Resources Council’s Michael Roche, Environment Minister Greg Hunt, a former director of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and WWF Australia's own Rick Leck.

On Monday night you can see for yourself the important results of Four Corner’s analysis and investigation on ABC 1.

According to the ABC website:

"Internal documents obtained by Four Corners reveal deep divisions between the scientists and bureaucrats behind the decision. They show that the dumping was approved despite previous recommendations from senior scientists that it be rejected."

If you’re on Twitter. tune in and take part in a Reef Twitter Debate and show Australia’s political leaders that you want the Reef protected.

Look forward to watching and tweeting with you.

Felicity Wishart

On behalf of the Fight for the Reef team

PS. If you can’t watch the program on Monday, catch up at a time that suits you.

 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report – from GBRMPA

Every five years, we publish an Outlook Report that examines the Great Barrier Reef’s health, pressures, and likely future.

The report is required under Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (section 54) and aims to provide a regular and reliable means of assessing reef health and management in an accountable and transparent way.

For the first time, the report specifically considers the Great Barrier Reef Region’s heritage values, including Indigenous heritage, historic heritage and the area’s world heritage values.

This assessment is new and responds to revised requirements of our Act and the World Heritage Committee requesting an explicit assessment of the area’s outstanding universal value.

The report acknowledges there’s been a range of positive actions since 2009, including government and landholders focusing on improving the quality of water that runs off the land.

The report finds the greatest risks to the Reef are still climate change, land-based run-off, coastal development, some remaining impacts of fishing and illegal fishing and poaching.

The extensive assessment and stakeholder engagement work undertaken for the Great Barrier Reef Region Strategic Assessment was very strongly drawn on in the process of developing this Outlook Report.

To view our Outlook Report and in brief as an online flipbook. These reports and supporting reports are also in our e-library.

In brief report:

In full;

 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report released – August 11th, 2014

The health of the reef has declined.

Two landmark reports on the health of the Great Barrier Reef have outlined the pressure it is being put under by climate change and other environmental factors.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s five-yearlyoutlook report found that the reef’s overall health is poor, and getting worse.

But federal environment minister Greg Hunt said he is confident the reef will not lose its World Heritage Listing, which comes up for review next year.

The federal and Queensland governments' strategic assessmentoutlines how the reef can be better looked after in response to a United Nations request for improved management.

Both reports identify climate change is the reef’s most significant threat, along with poor water quality, fishing and coastal development.

The Conversation sought feedback from experts in the field, some of which commented;

It is now a question of “when” rather than “if” the Great Barrier Reef will be placed on the List of World Heritage In Danger. These reports paint a bleak picture of the reef’s future.

In addition, the government has committed to reduce carbon emissions by only 5% by 2020 compared with 2000 levels. We know from the work of the Climate Change Authority (which Minister Hunt is seeking to abolish) that this objective is far short of the 15-19% reduction needed for Australia to do its fair share and to be on track to keep temperature rises within safe limits that would give the reef a reasonable chance of surviving.

Tim Stephens, Deputy Director, University of Sydney Institute of Marine Science

Minister Hunt states that “the Commonwealth and Queensland governments are jointly investing approximately A$180 million annually in the reef’s health.” This should be applauded. However, the amount of resources relative to the scale of the problem remains small.

In this respect, we need to remind ourselves that this ecosystem provides over A$6 billion worth of benefits.

Many of my CEO friends would probably have a similar perspective. In terms of GBR Inc, this essentially means that we are investing 3% into ‘a business’ that earns us over A$6 billion each year. Any normal ‘business’ would be investing 5-10% to ensure that the business was viable and sustainable.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland

The full article may be read in The Conversation 

 Strategic assessment bolsters protection of the Great Barrier Reef

Media release - 12 August 2014: The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment

The Australian and Queensland Governments have today released the final comprehensive strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area addressing a key recommendation of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

The comprehensive strategic assessment, released alongside the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2014, is a comprehensive analysis of issues affecting the reef and what is needed for its protection.

The strategic assessment found the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area retains its outstanding universal value and integrity although some aspects are under pressure.

Just as was identified in the 2009 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report, the 2014 Outlook identifies run-off, crown-of-thorns starfish, development along the coast, fishing and illegal fishing, and climate change as the major threats to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef remains one of the most resilient marine ecosystems in the world and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's management is considered effective for activities where it has direct responsibility or a high level of control.

The Assessment and Outlook also shows;

•The Great Barrier Reef as a whole retains the qualities contributing to its outstanding universal value

•Recovery in Humpback whale and Loggerhead turtle populations

•Reductions in the nutrient, sediment and pesticide loads from the catchment entering the region.

Along the Queensland coast, the northern areas, above Port Douglas, remain in good condition while areas further south have been affected by human use and natural disasters.

The assessment found storms, cyclones, poor water quality, the impacts of fishing, and the combination of legacy issues like broad scale land clearing, are the biggest impacts.

The impact of port development is localised and continued best practice management is required to lessen their contribution to overall impacts.

These are important milestones for the long-term protection of this global icon.

Among the initiatives to be adopted by the Commonwealth and Queensland Government:

•A cumulative impact assessment policy and guidelines for a transparent, consistent and systematic approach to identifying, measuring and managing collective impacts on the region and its values

•A net benefit policy to guide actions aimed at restoring ecosystem health and improve the condition of values.

•A new approach to decision making based on clear targets for maintaining the reef's Outstanding Universal Value.

•No port development outside the key long-established ports of Townsville, Abbot Point, Hay Point-Mackay and Gladstone.

•A Reef recovery programme to support local communities and other stakeholders to protect and restore sites of high environmental value and critical ecosystem functions through cooperative regional-scale management approaches.

•Reef-wide integrated monitoring and reporting that underpins the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's adaptive management and provides good feedback on the effectiveness of management actions.

The 2014 Outlook Report acknowledges progress made in reducing pollutants entering the reef and the work with Traditional Owners on sea country management.

A series of major storms and floods during the five-year reporting period had an adverse impact on the reef's ecosystem.

Together, these reports reinforce there are no quick fixes and it will take time to turn around the overall health of the reef with a concerted effort from government, industries and communities.

The Commonwealth and Queensland governments are jointly investing approximately $180 million annually in the reef's health.

The strategic assessment and Outlook Report provide a valuable opportunity to examine the cumulative impacts of activities on the Reef and the effectiveness of management to deal with such impacts.

The strategic assessment is informing measures in the Commonwealth and Queensland governments' Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.

This overarching framework for managing the reef from 2015 to 2050 is being developed in partnership with reef stakeholders. It will be released for public comment later this year.

For the first time, the Government has established a $40 million Reef Trust which will put the focus firmly on improving coastal habitat, water quality and enhancing species protection along the reef.

Queensland has agreed for the first time to limit port development in priority port development areas to protect pristine areas from the impacts of port development.

Partnerships across all levels of government—and with traditional owners, stakeholders, industry and the broader community—are key to the reef's future.

The UNESCO World Heritage has recognised the significant work and progress in protecting the reef thus far and the Commonwealth and Queensland governments will continue to meet its key recommendations in protecting the long-term health of the reef.

While the Great Barrier Reef faces challenges, it remains the world's most outstanding major reef system. We are absolutely committed to protecting and improving the health of this iconic natural wonder so it can be enjoyed by future generations.

 Ballina Koalas protected in Pacific Highway upgrade

Media release - 15 August 2014, The Hon. Greg Hunt MP; Minister for the Environment 

Today, I have approved the Pacific Highway Upgrade, Woolgoolga to Ballina, project subject to 26 strict environmental conditions.

The 155km Woolgoolga to Ballina upgrade is Australia's largest regional road infrastructure project. 

There has been a high level of public interest in the project, particularly in relation to impacts on the important koala population near Ballina.

I have considered the assessment report from the New South Wales Government, public submissions, the findings of the Ballina Shire koala study, and further koala population modelling that was submitted to me late in the process.

The conditions that I have applied require the NSW Roads and Maritime Services to demonstrate that impacts to the Ballina Koala population will be acceptable, before section 10 of the highway can be undertaken. 

The NSW Roads and Maritime Services must prepare a Ballina Koala Plan that includes peer reviewed population modelling for the Ballina koalas.  

Prior to proceeding with the construction of the 13km, section 10 of the highway upgrade, concerns around the impact of the Ballina koala population need to be addressed.

For the remaining sections of the upgrade, approval has been given with 26 strict conditions to minimise environmental impacts, including a range of mitigation measures on the proposed route which are critical to avoid impacts to koalas and other threatened species.

The Pacific Highway upgrade will deliver a range of benefits at the national, state, regional and local level including improved safety, reduced travel times, increased freight carrying capacity and reduced freight transport costs, and improved access to regional centres, and connectivity between agricultural and industrial centres.

The project will also provide a direct investment into the economy of $4.4 billion and create up to 4,100 full time construction jobs.

For further information see

 Biodiversity Legislation Review - Have Your Say

What are we doing?

The Minister for the Environment has appointed an independent panel to undertake a comprehensive review of the Native Vegetation Act 2003, Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, Nature Conservation Trust Act 2001 and related legislation. Details of the Review Panel and the terms of reference are available

(External link).

Why are we doing it?

A major holistic review of biodiversity legislation (including native vegetation laws) in NSW has never been undertaken. The current legislative framework has become fragmented, overly complex and process driven.  The review provides an opportunity to address inadequacies in the current legislative framework and develop a modernised biodiversity law that will facilitate the conservation of biological diversity, support sustainable development and reduce red tape.

How can you have your say?

The Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel has been asked to maintain an active program of stakeholder engagement throughout the review process. The Review Panel has released an issues paper and encourages all interested people and organisations to make a written submission. The issues paper considers a range of issues across six major themes governing the management of native vegetation, threatened species and wildlife in NSW.The panel is particularly interested in any evidence to support comments made in submissions.

Anyone interested in making a submission should first read the issues paper, which provides context around each set of questions, along with additional information to help you make your submission.

Open for consultation

06 August 2014

Deadline for submissions

05 September 2014

See more

Bird Watching with Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA)

Sunday Birdwatching with PNHA

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

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

21 September Deep Creek, off Wakehurst Parkway

16 November Irrawong Reserve, Warriewood

Contact us to book and get details of each birdwalk.

Email or ph: 0439 409 202/0402 605 721

 Muogamarra Nature Reserve open season 2014

Discover the cultural heritage and natural wonders of Muogamarra Nature Reserve this spring

Muogamarra Nature Reserve is home to an extraordinary landscape, open for just six weekends a year to preserve its fragile ecosystems and Aboriginal heritage. In spring, the reserve transforms into a brilliant display of colour when the spring wildflowers come into bloom.

This year, the Muogamarra spring flower open season takes place every Saturday and Sunday from 16 August to 21 September.

Join a NPWS Discovery tour and hear the secrets of Muogamarra from our volunteer guides. Tours are very popular, so early bookings are recommended.

 Little penguins forage together: 40% of studied penguins synchronized underwater movements while foraging

August 13, 2014 – Most little penguins may search for food in groups, and even synchronize their movements during foraging trips, according to a study published August 13, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Maud Berlincourt and John Arnould from Deakin University in Australia.

Little penguins are the smallest penguin species and they live exclusively in southern Australia, New Zealand, and the Chatham Islands, but spend most of their lives at sea in search of food. Not much is known about group foraging behavior in seabirds due to the difficulty in observing their remote feeding grounds.

Scientists aiming to better understand this behavior used GPS-derived location and diving data to track at-sea foraging associations of little penguins during breeding season. Researchers gathered 84 separate foraging tracks and then categorized individual penguin associations into one of three groups: not associating with other penguins; associating when departing from or returning to the colony; or at sea when traveling or diving, including synchronized dives.

The authors found that ~ 70% of little penguins' foraging tracks were in association with other penguins, ~ 50% of individuals dove while associating with other penguins, and ~ 40% exhibited synchronous diving. These behaviors suggest little penguins forage in groups, may synchronize their underwater movements, and potentially cooperate to concentrate their small-schooling prey.

Maud Berlincourt, John P. Y. Arnould. At-Sea Associations in Foraging Little Penguins. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (8): e105065 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0105065

 Fin Free NSW – Let’s Take Shark Fin Off the Menu

What is shark finning?

Shark finning refers to the cutting of fins off a shark’s body. When the fins are cut off, the shark, whether dead or alive, is commonly discarded back into the water.  The shark dies slowly and painfully, usually of asphyxiation or through blood loss.

It is estimated  that around 38 million sharks a year have their fins removed while alive and thrown back in the ocean to die a slow death. There are many other estimates, up to 100,000,000.

Shark fins are almost exclusively used for shark fin soup. Shark Fin Soup is becoming deeply unpopular among younger generations both here and in Asia. It is time to put an end to the inhumane use of sharks once and for all. More and more young people are turning away from shark fin soup, both here and in Asia. Nonetheless, shark fin soup, usually from imported sources, is still regularly served in restaurants throughout Sydney.

The possession, sale and trade of shark fins is prohibited in Hawaii, New York, California, Washington State and Illinois in the United States and countries such as French Polynesia, Egypt and the Bahamas have bans as well. NSW can be the first state in Australia to ban the sale of shark fin for consumption.

Shark Fin is also used in some dietary supplements but there is little evidence of their sustainability or their effectiveness.

Does shark finning happen in New South Wales?

Live shark finning, the practice of cutting the fins from live sharks and dumping the body, is illegal in all jurisdictions in Australia. However, the legislation differs between various states, the territories and the Commonwealth; in Commonwealth, NSW[1] and Victorian waters, all sharks caught must be brought back to port (‘landed’) with their fins attached to their bodies.

In New South Wales, numerous shark species are caught in the NSW Ocean Trap and Line Fishery and the Ocean Trawl Fishery. Shark fins can be harvested from sharks that have been landed and brought to shore. Usually, shark meat is sold as ‘flake’ and the fins removed for sale. It is believed most Australian shark fin is exported. Estimates[2] suggest that in 2006-07m 570 tonnes of shark fin was exported from Australia, out of a world total of (probably) 10,000 tonnes.

But many restaurants in New South Wales still serve shark fins, usually from imports. Shark fin trade data, specific to NSW, is not publicly available. Due to the opaque nature of the supply chain of shark fins, it is highly likely that most shark fin in the world is procured from live shark finning.

Take Action

Let’s Take Shark Fin Off the Menu – Fin Free NSW

Sign our petition  calling on the Premier to pass the ‘Food Amendment (Shark Fin Prohibition) Bill 2014 ’ and ask your local MP to commit to voting for it.

Ask your local restaurant if they serve shark fin soup or any other food involving shark fin. If they do: tell them the facts about shark finning.

Ask your local restaurant to proudly display that they are ‘Shark Fin Free’ using our stickers. Contact us to ask for them.

See more at:

 One-Stop Shop to streamline Tasmanian environmental assessments and approvals

Joint media release - 13 August 2014: The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment; The Hon. Matthew Groom, Minister for the Environment, Parks and Heritage

The Tasmanian and Federal Governments are now one step closer to creating a One-Stop Shop for environmental assessments and approvals.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Tasmanian Environment Minister Matthew Groom have released a draft approvals bilateral agreement for public comment.

Reducing the regulatory burden on business by streamlining the environmental assessment and approval processes was a key federal election commitment of the Coalition.

"Duplication of federal, state and local planning processes adds complexity and cost to environmental approvals across the country - with no added environmental benefit," said Minister Hunt.

"Under current arrangements, major projects can be delayed through multiple and duplicative approval processes, even if the project is environmentally acceptable.

"To cut red tape the Federal Government is working with state and territory governments to develop a 'One-Stop Shop' for environmental approvals."

The 'One-Stop Shop' reform will accredit Tasmania's planning systems under national environmental law, to create a single approval process that satisfies both Governments' requirements.

"The new approval bilateral agreement will deliver on our commitment to streamline the State and Commonwealth approval process and ensures we are maximising growth and investment opportunities for Tasmania," said Minister Groom.

"The 'One-Stop Shop' will put in place measures to maintain high environmental standards, while reducing duplication across jurisdictions.

"This will deliver a real boost to Tasmania's economy while ensuring our precious environment continues to be protected.

Further information can be found

 Whistling Tree Frogs Begin to Sing in East Gippsland 

The boy Whistling Tree frogs (Litoria verreauxii) are starting to call now. Not so much a tree dweller but hangs out around swamps and pond edges. Listen for the high pitched "tweee tweee tweee"

 River red gum - more than just a tree

14 August 2014

So much more than just a tree, the river red gum has been central to the tensions between economic, social and environmental values of rivers and floodplain landscapes in Australia - perhaps more so than any other Australian plant or animal.

Flooded Forest and Desert Creek: Ecology and History of the River Red Gum, a new CSIRO book, examines not only the ecology of one of the most iconic Australian trees, but how changes in attitudes towards it have reflected broader shifts in values of Australian society.

Author, CSIRO’s Dr Matthew Colloff, said that given the prominence of the river red gum in Australian culture, we know surprisingly little about the ecology and life history of it.

"This provides us with a greater understanding of the value of this tree as part of our common heritage and how we can manage river red gum forests under a drier future climate with reduced water availability"


“The river red gum has been the subject of repeated government inquiries over its conservation, use and management. Despite this we know remarkably little about the basics of this species: its longevity; how deep its roots go; what proportion of its seedlings survive to adulthood; the diversity of organisms associated with it, and the nature of those associations,” Dr Colloff said.

Flooded Forest and Desert Creek describes what we do know about the biology and ecology of the river red gum, the changing landscape in which it lives and the shifting cultural context that has been shaped by our unfolding interactions with it. The author describes the factors that have driven change in river red gum forests - fire, grazing, timber harvesting, river regulation and diversions of water for irrigation - and examines how we have begun to move from a culture of exploitation to one of conservation, sustainable use and multiple values.

This shift in consciousness has been articulated in part through the depiction of river red gums and inland floodplains in art, literature and the media. Images of the tree by Hans Heysen, Henry Johnstone, Harold Cazneaux and Lin Onus are among the best-known and most-loved works of art in our public galleries.

The river red gum has the most widespread natural distribution of any eucalypt species in Australia, forming extensive forests and woodlands in the south-east and providing the structural and functional elements of important floodplain and wetland ecosystems. Along ephemeral creeks in arid central Australia it forms narrow corridors, providing vital refuge in the form of habitat and food resources for a whole host of animals in an otherwise hostile, arid environment.

Flooded Forest and Desert Creek also contrasts the interactions between people and the trees in arid central Australia, where the tree is sacred - standing for water, life and hope - with those further east in the Murray-Darling Basin, where conflicts between the allocation of water for irrigated agricultural production and for the environment are still being played out.

The book is available from CSIRO Publishing

 A story of blue

Published on 14 Aug 2014

Blue has long proved a problem for artists. There are few blue materials in nature that can serve as pigment for painters. During the Renaissance period artists used a pigment called natural ultramarine, lauded for its rich and striking appearance. 

In this Nature Video, we visit London’s National Gallery to hear the story of natural ultramarine; where it came from, how famous painters used it, and how advances in chemistry during the 19th century enabled the production of a synthetic version which revolutionized painters’ palettes.

The National Gallery (UK) exhibition, Making Colour, tells the story of blue and runs until 7 September.

 Dark bands in starlight: New Milky Way maps help solve stubborn interstellar material mystery

August 14, 2014 - An international team of sky scholars, including a key researcher from Johns Hopkins, has produced new maps of the material located between the stars in the Milky Way. The results should move astronomers closer to cracking a stardust puzzle that has vexed them for nearly a century. The maps and an accompanying journal article appear in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal Science. The researchers say their work demonstrates a new way of uncovering the location and eventually the composition of the interstellar medium - the material found in the vast expanse between star systems within a galaxy.

This material includes dust and gas composed of atoms and molecules that are left behind when a star dies. The material also supplies the building blocks for new stars and planets.

"There's an old saying that 'We are all stardust,' since all chemical elements heavier than helium are produced in stars," said Rosemary Wyse, a Johns Hopkins professor of physics and astronomy who played a prominent role in the research and helped shape the Science paper. "But we still don't know why stars form where they do. This study is giving us new clues about the interstellar medium out of which the stars form."

In particular, the researchers focused on a mysterious feature in the light from stars, a peculiarity called diffuse interstellar bands, or "DIBS." A graduate student who photographed the light from distant stars discovered these dark bands in 1922.

Analyzing rainbow-colored bands of starlight that have passed through space gives astronomers important information about the makeup of the space materials that the light has encountered. But in 1922, the grad student's photographs yielded some dark lines indicating that some starlight was "missing'' and that something in the interstellar medium between Earth and the star was absorbing the light.

Since then, scientists have identified more than 400 of these diffuse interstellar bands, but the materials that cause the bands to appear and their precise location have remained a mystery.

Researchers have speculated that the absorption of starlight that creates these dark bands points to the presence of unusually large complex molecules, but proof of this has remained elusive. The nature of this puzzling material is important to astronomers because it could provide clues about the physical conditions and chemistry of these regions between stars. Such details serve as critical components in theories as to how stars and galaxies are formed.

Wyse said more concrete clues should emerge from the new pseudo-3D maps of the DIB-material within our Milky Way Galaxy, maps that were produced by the 23 scientists who contributed to theScience article.

The maps were assembled from data collected over a 10-year period by the Radial Velocity Experiment, also known as RAVE. This project used the UK Schmidt Telescope in Australia to collect spectroscopic information from the light of as many as 150 stars at once. The maps are described as "pseudo-3D" because a specific mathematical form was assumed for the distribution in the vertical dimension that provides the distances from the plane of the Milky Way, with the maps presented in the remaining two dimensions.

Wyse, who is on the executive board of the RAVE project, said the survey supplied the mapmakers with data related to 500,000 stars. The vast size of the sample enabled the mapmakers to determine the distances of the material that causes the DIBs and thus how the material is distributed throughout the Milky Way Galaxy. The resulting maps showed the intriguing result that the complex molecules thought to be responsible for the DIBs are distributed differently than another known component of the interstellar medium - the solid particles known as dust - also traced by the RAVE survey.

Future studies can use the techniques outlined in the new paper to assemble other maps that should further solve the mysteries surrounding where DIBS are located and what materials cause them. "To figure out what something is, you first have to figure out where it is," Wyse said, "and that's what this paper does. Larger surveys will provide more details in the future. This paper has demonstrated how to do that."

A portion of the funds for this project came from U.S. National Science Foundation grant AST-0908326.

Online video of stars observed by RAVE:

J. Kos, T. Zwitter, R. Wyse, O. Bienayme, J. Binney, J. Bland-Hawthorn, K. Freeman, B. K. Gibson, G. Gilmore, E. K. Grebel, A. Helmi, G. Kordopatis, U. Munari, J. Navarro, Q. Parker, W. A. Reid, G. Seabroke, S. Sharma, A. Siebert, A. Siviero, M. Steinmetz, F. G. Watson, M. E. K. Williams. Pseudo-three-dimensional maps of the diffuse interstellar band at 862 nm. Science, 2014; 345 (6198): 791 DOI: 10.1126/science.1253171

View of Milky Way Galaxy from Earth (stock image). Credit: © peresanz / Fotolia

Solomon Islands: Saving the Pacific’s Tuna by United Nations

Published on 14 Aug 2014

United Nations - In the Western and Central Pacific they are a part of the culture – and a multi-billion dollar business. They are eaten everywhere around the world – and they are becoming easier and easier to catch. Will modern technology mean the end of tuna – or will it help them survive?

 More Support for Patients with Prostate Cancer

14 August 2014

The Australian Government is funding 14 specialist prostate cancer nurses to provide support for patients, their families and carers, particularly in rural and regional areas. 

Minister for Health, Peter Dutton said prostate cancer was the most common form of cancer affecting Australian men (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers), with 19,821 men diagnosed in 2010.

“The good news is that prostate cancer has a high survival rate – and by basing specialist nurses in areas of most need, where there are links to cancer treatment services, these nurses will enable a greater coordination of care for men diagnosed with prostate cancer, especially those in rural and regional areas,” Mr Dutton said. 

“Prostate cancer nurses are specially trained registered nurses who provide information, care and support to men with prostate cancer and their families and carers, within a multidisciplinary health care team. 

“They are a crucial central point of contact for patients, their families and carers, by coordinating access to care and services such as physiotherapy and counselling.”

It is intended that the Prostate Cancer Nurse Initiative will result in improved access to multidisciplinary specialists and services, continuity of care for prostate cancer patients throughout the entire cancer journey, as well as coordination of care from a prostate cancer diagnosis onwards.

The Government has committed $6.2 million from 2013-14 to 2016-17 to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) to select sites, facilitate training and fund the placement of the 14 new positions.

The initiative will more than double – from 12 to 26 – the number of prostate cancer nurses employed through a pilot programme currently being run through the PCFA and the Movember Foundation. 

Approximately 4,000 men and their families are expected to benefit from a Commonwealth-funded prostate cancer nurse over the four year programme. 

The following 14 locations will get a prostate cancer nurse – Bunbury, WA; Adelaide, SA; Mornington Peninsula, Ballarat, Geelong, Melbourne (Footscray) and Mildura, Victoria; Sydney (North Ryde and Kogarah), Port Macquarie and Orange, NSW; and Cairns, Rockhampton and Brisbane (Greenslopes), Queensland.

“The five year relative survival rate of 92 per cent for prostate cancer means there is a large group of men who have been diagnosed and treated, who are now either living with prostate cancer or have survived treatment and its side effects,” Mr Dutton said.

“Increasing the number of specialist prostate cancer nurses means more men will have access to nurses, who will provide vital information, care, and practical and emotional support to men diagnosed with prostate cancer, their families and carers.”

 Talking therapies can harm too – here’s what to look out for

14 August 2014

OPINION: People seeking therapy should always talk to a practitioner who provides good quality treatment that’s appropriate to their needs. Because research shows that even the innocuous-sounding “talking therapies” (essentially counselling and psychotherapy) can be harmful for some when they’re unsuitable.

Reflecting my day job, I’m going to focus here on mood disorders. Some of these (melancholic depression, for instance, and bipolar disorder) are essentially “diseases” because their causes are largely genetic, and reflect primary biological brain changes.

The wrong model

People with these mood disorders tend to respond to medication but not usually to talking therapies. Therapists with a narrow treatment approach will generally fail to be of any assistance to people who suffer from such conditions.

But sadly, as per the aphorism “if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail”, some therapists reject any possibility they might be providing totally inappropriate treatment.

I cringe when recipients of such treatment – many substantially impaired for years – tell me their practitioner has reassured them that their continuing depression (which might have responded within weeks to an antidepressant drug) needs to be “experienced before it can be worked through,” or some other defensive pseudo-profound explanation.

In such cases, talking therapies are indirectly harmful by being inappropriate and ineffective.

Conversely, there are many depressive disorders that lack primary biological changes. But, despite the most appropriate treatment here being a talking therapy, the individual receives a procession of inappropriate and ineffective antidepressant drugs that may also have distressing side effects.

Here again, harm – and a lack of therapeutic response – may arise from the wrong therapeutic model. But harm may also accrue from the ingredients of therapy and how they’re applied by individual therapists.

Components and risks

Psychotherapies, such as cognitive behaviour therapy or dynamic psychotherapy, are all developed with an underlying logic and possess powerful specific ingredients.

Cognitive behaviour therapy, for instance, challenges faulty thinking patterns that cause people to view themselves, their future, and the world negatively. While dynamic psychotherapy, which is derived from psychoanalysis, is designed to identify the early formative events that led the individual to develop psychological problems.

But all psychotherapies also contain non-specific therapeutic ingredients that may – when present in some circumstances, or absent in others – benefit or harm the patient. These include the therapist being empathic, and providing a clear therapeutic rationale in a healing and restorative setting.

An analysis of several studies shows only 8% of patient improvement during psychotherapy is due to any specific therapy component.

Other research puts the figure at an estimated 15%, with the remainder emerging from non-specific components – a third from the therapeutic relationship, and some from patients “expecting” to improve, but most improvement from patient and extra-therapy factors such as the therapist being empathic, offering a logical model, hope and expectancy of improvement.

But just as the ideal therapist can contribute significantly to improvement, if he or she lacks such ingredients – or is actively “toxic” – then harm occurs.

Psychotherapists argue that because their work is “only talking… no possible harm could ensue”. But all effective medication is accompanied by risk and the same holds for talking therapies.

The harm of talking therapies

In 2009, a colleague and I published an overview of reported harmful effects from talking therapies, examining scenarios such as the insensitive, critical, voyeuristic or sexually exploitative therapist, and their prevalence.

In a subsequent research report, we developed a measure of adverse therapeutic styles experienced by people who had received a psychological therapy and left or (perhaps more concerning), remained in therapy and had their condition worsen.

The most common “negative therapist” style identified was a lack of empathy or respect, and not having the patient’s interests at heart.

Next, was the “preoccupied therapist” who made the patient feel alienated and powerless; the controlling therapist who encouraged dependency; and, finally, the passive therapist who was inactive, inexperienced or lacked credibility.

While side effects from medicines are generally physical, the adverse effects of psychotherapy and counselling naturally tilt to the psychological. They tend to leave the harmed person inclined to feel self-blame, helpless, and demoralised (or to become more self-centred and self-absorbed), while commonly remaining dependent on the therapist.

Better ways

To avoid this, all health practitioners should be evaluated by their clients in terms of both style and substance. Most patients seek practitioners who meets both requirements; who are perceived as caring and technically proficient. But, if invited to choose which to prioritise, most will generally go for “style” (preferring the kindly practitioner).

This is also a matter of concern; kindly practitioners may meander without a therapeutic game plan so that, while the patient is appreciating their warmth, there is no actual progress.

Unfortunately, there are no formal processes in place for evaluating professional psychotherapists and counsellors. While a therapist would not (and could not) allow an independent observer to judge the therapy on a session by session basis, there’s no reason why a patient cannot seek a second opinion from another therapist to determine if the therapy being received is cogent and provided at a professionally logical level.

Informal ratings provided on platforms, such as websites, should not necessarily be trusted because ratings may be weighted to the aggrieved (satisfied customers are less likely to rate), and professional rivals may “load” negative reports.

If someone is exploited or abused by a therapist, they should make a report to the appropriate professional disciplinary board. If the therapist is less overtly concerning (whether simply passive, on the wrong wavelength or causing you to feel troubled or even worse), best to cut and run.

You may have psychological problems but rely on your instincts; therapy that matches your needs is an incomparable balm and will advance your recovery. Therapy that fails this is not worth your while.

Gordon Parker is  founder of the Black Dog Institute and Scientia Professor at UNSW.

This opinion piece was first published in The Conversation.

 Stuck in neutral: brain defect traps schizophrenics in twilight zone

14 August 2014

People with schizophrenia struggle to turn goals into actions because brain structures governing desire and emotion are less active and fail to pass goal-directed messages to cortical regions affecting human decision-making, new research reveals.

Published in Biological Psychiatry, the finding by a University of Sydney research team is the first to illustrate the inability to initiate goal-directed behaviour common in people with schizophrenia.

The finding may explain why people with schizophrenia have difficulty achieving real-world goals such as making friends, completing education and finding employment.

"The apparent lack of motivation in schizophrenic patients isn't because they lack goals or don't enjoy rewards and pleasure," says the University of Sydney's Dr Richard Morris, the study's lead author.

"They enjoy as many experiences as other people, including food, movies and scenes of natural beauty.

"What appears to block them are specific brain deficits that prevent them from converting their desires and goals into choices and behaviour."

Using a control group research design, the researchers used a two-prong approach to reveal how and why schizophrenics fail to convert their preferences into congruent choices.

First, using a series of experiments involving choosing between different snack food rewards, experimenters revealed that:

- schizophrenic subjects had a liking for snack foods equivalent to healthy adults

- when researchers reduced the value of one of the snacks, both subjects and healthy adults subsequently preferred different snacks, as expected

- surprisingly, schizophrenic subjects had major difficulty choosing their preferred snack when provided with a choice between their preferred snack and the devalued snack.

Second, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measures brain activity while study subjects performed learning tasks involving snack foods.

This technique relies on the fact that cerebral blood flow and neuronal activity are coupled. When an area of the brain is in use, bloodflow to that region increases, thereby indicating neural activity. This neural activity can be presented graphically by colour-coding the strength of activation across the brain or in specific brain regions. The technique can localise neural activity to within millimetres.

Functional MRI results revealed the following:

- schizophrenic subjects had normal neural activity in the brain region responsible for decision-making (prefrontal cortex)

- among schizophrenic subjects, brain regions responsible, in part, for controlling actions and choice (the caudate) had far lower neural activity than in healthy subjects

- lower neural activity in the caudate regions was correlated with the difficulty that schizophrenic subjects' had applying their food preferences to obtain future snack foods.

"Pathology in the caudate and associated brain regions may prevent schizophrenic subjects from properly evaluating their desires then transmitting that information to guide their behavior," says Dr Morris.

"This means that desires and goals are intact in people with schizophrenia, however they have difficulty choosing the right course of action to achieve those goals.

"This failure to integrate desire with action means people with schizophrenia are stuck in limbo, wanting a normal life but unable to take the necessary steps to achieve it."

Schizophrenia affects one per cent of people worldwide, including in Australia.

However so-called "poor motivation" in schizophrenia is a major economic concern because it is not treated by current medicines, and often means patients fail to finish their education or hold a full-time job.

Protecting newborns: milk protein could save millions from harm

13 August 2014

An international effort led by the University of Sydney hopes to protect hundreds of Bangladeshi newborns from a host of severe health problems by assessing the effect of lactoferrin, a natural protein found in breast and cow's milk, in the treatment of iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy.

If successful, the results could be cost efficiently scaled to sustainably improve the health and development of millions of newborn children around the world.

The trial's funding has just been approved by an international consortium comprising the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, the Norwegian Government, Grand Challenges Canada, and UK AID.

"Lactoferrin could prove to be a cheap and accessible way to rapidly reverse some of the ill effects of iron deficiency that affect two billion people globally," says, Professor Michael Dibley of the University of Sydney, leader of the trial to be conducted in Bangladesh.

A component of the human immune system, lactoferrin also has antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.

Size and nature of the problem

Iron deficiency in pregnancy affects more than 50 per cent of women in low-income countries, 12 per cent in Australia and the UK, and in 25 to 40 per cent in Aboriginal and other disadvantaged groups of women.

Pregnant women can develop iron deficiency anemia due to the increased iron requirements of a growing fetus, and the higher volume of blood circulating in a woman's body during pregnancy.

Lactoferrin is an iron-binding protein that may rapidly restore natural iron levels and aid the prevention of iron deficiency - a risk factor for anemia that poses health risks to a developing fetus. These risks may include impaired fetal growth, premature birth, low birth weight and higher rates of neonatal death.

Anemia during pregnancy could also predispose newborns to future problems, such as irreversible psychomotor delay, low intelligence, behavioural and school problems, obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

How the research trial will work

"Our trial in Bangladesh, which starts shortly, will initially compare lactoferrin with ferrous sulphate - both in oral capsule form - in iron-deficient anemic, non-pregnant women," says University of Sydney Professor of Neonatology, Professor William Tarnow-Mordi.

"Iron sulphate is currently the standard first line of defense against anemia but it is suboptimal and has a host of negative side effects. For example, it is poorly absorbed, causes inflammatory problems, and poses a risk of accidental overdose and death in children if not safely stored."

If Lactoferrin proves to be as safe and effective as iron sulphate, the trial will proceed to a second stage comparing lactoferrin with (i) ferrous sulphate and (ii) lactoferrin supplemented with vitamin A and riboflavin for the treatment of iron deficient, anemic pregnant women. A third stage of the trial will compare lactoferrin with iron sulphate on birth outcomes.

Scaling the benefits

The Bangladeshi trial is a collaboration between the Sydney School of Public Health, the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, the WINNER Centre for Newborn Research, the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh and BRAC, a development organisation that alleviates poverty by assisting poor people to create change in their own lives.

"If the trial is effective, we will be working with our partners in Bangladesh and other regions in Asia and in Australia, New Zealand and Europe to raise the availability of lactoferrin," says Professor Dibley.

"To do this sustainably in Asian countries will mean scaling up the milk production capacity of those countries. This offers enormous benefits in terms of research and development, skills infrastructure capacity building, and employment."

 Amazing Airshow video - Cameron Airshow 2014  Published on Jul 17, 2014 C/- Brian Friend

This video is about Cameron Airshow 2014

Reclassification of PTSD diagnosis potentially excludes soldiers diagnosed under previous criteria

August 14, 2014 – A  new head-to-head comparison of screening questionnaires for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, shows a worrying discordance between the previous version of the PTSD definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - fourth edition (DSM-IV) and DSM-5, released in 2013.

The authors, led by Dr Charles Hoge of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, found that just under a third (30%) of soldiers who screened positive for PTSD under the old DSM-IV criteria were excluded when DSM-5 criteria were used, and just under a quarter (20%) of those who met criteria under DSM-5 would not have been identified using the older DSM-IV criteria. The study is the first to directly compare the original DSM-IV and DSM-5 checklists in a large group of infantry soldiers.

During the revision process prior to the publication of DSM-5, the diagnosis of PTSD underwent many more changes than other mental disorder diagnoses affecting adults. The new definition of PTSD raises the number of symptoms from 17 to 20, and eight of the original 17 symptoms were substantially reworded. Dr Hoge's study surveyed 1822 US soldiers, 946 of whom had been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were administered an anonymous survey that included both of the self-reported DSM-IV and DSM-5 checklists.

The reclassification of PTSD also involved shifting the diagnosis from anxiety disorders to trauma and stress disorders, and included the recommendation that patients whose symptom pattern falls below the diagnostic threshold for PTSD be diagnosed with adjustment disorder, or an inability to adapt to stressful situations. This is concerning in the context of the US military, where that diagnosis carries a strongly pejorative connotation. Diagnosis of adjustment disorder can lead to administrative separation and loss of benefits, which is of especial concern when those who would have been considered within the range of PTSD under the DSM-IV criteria could fall below the new threshold.

According to Dr Hoge, "After twelve years of war, and over 25 years of solid clinical and research experience with the previous definition, the reclassification of the PTSD diagnosis in DSM-5 presents concerns for the evaluation and treatment of service members and veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although we found that roughly the same percentage of soldiers met criteria for PTSD according to the two definitions, and the new PTSD screening tool was equivalent to the one we've used for many years, we also found that the two PTSD definitions did not identify the same individuals. The new definition also did not appear to have greater clinical utility than the previous one."

Writing in a linked Comment, Professor Alexander McFarlane, at the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies, University of Adelaide, Australia, said, "We think there should be a period of transition between legal use of DSM-IV and DSM-5 so that potential effects of these changes can be examined and that deserving individuals are not denied their legal rights. There is an obligation not to let this unintended consequence of a fashion of psychopathological formulation prevail."

Charles W Hoge, Lyndon A Riviere, Joshua E Wilk, Richard K Herrell, Frank W Weathers. The prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in US combat soldiers: a head-to-head comparison of DSM-5 versus DSM-IV-TR symptom criteria with the PTSD checklist. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2014; DOI:10.1016/S2215-0366(14)70235-4

Health papers published this week:

Cell discovery brings blood disorder cure closer

August 13, 2014 - A cure for a range of blood disorders and immune diseases is in sight, according to scientists who have unraveled the mystery of stem cell generation. The Australian study, led by researchers at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) at Monash University and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, is published today in Nature. It identifies for the first time mechanisms in the body that trigger hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) production.

Found in the bone marrow and in umbilical cord blood, HSCs are critically important because they can replenish the body's supply of blood cells. Leukemia patients have been successfully treated using HSC transplants, but medical experts believe blood stem cells have the potential to be used more widely.

Lead researcher Professor Peter Currie, from ARMI explained that understanding how HSCs self-renew to replenish blood cells is a "Holy Grail" of stem cell biology.

"HSCs are one of the best therapeutic tools at our disposal because they can make any blood cell in the body. Potentially we could use these cells in many more ways than current transplantation strategies to treat serious blood disorders and diseases, but only if we can figure out how they are generated in the first place. Our study brings this possibility a step closer," he said.

A key stumbling block to using HSCs more widely has been an inability to produce them in the laboratory setting. The reason for this, suggested from previous research, is that a molecular 'switch' may also be necessary for HSC formation, though the mechanism responsible has remained a mystery, until now.

In this latest study, ARMI researchers observed cells in the developing zebra fish - a tropical freshwater fish known for its regenerative abilities and optically clear embryos - to gather new information on the signalling process responsible for HSC generation.

Using high-resolution microscopy researchers made a film of how these stem cells form inside the embryo, which captured the process of their formation in dramatic detail.

Professor Currie said when playing back these films they noticed that HSCs require a "buddy" cell type to help them form. These "buddies," known as endotome cells, have stem cell inducing properties,

"Endotome cells act like a comfy sofa for pre HSCs to snuggle into, helping them progress to become fully fledged stem cells. Not only did we identify some of the cells and signals required for HSC formation, we also pinpointed the genes required for endotome formation in the first place," Professor Currie said.

"The really exciting thing about these results is that if we can find the signals present in the endotome cells responsible for embryonic HSC formation then we can use them in vitro to make different blood cells on demand for all sorts of blood related disorder."

"Potentially it's imaginable that you could even correct genetic defects in cells and then transplant them back into the body," Professor Currie said.

Dr Georgina Hollway, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research said the work highlights how molecular processes in the body play a key role in HSC formation.

"We now know that these migratory cells are essential in the formation of hematopoietic stem cells, and we have described some of the molecular processes involved. This information is not the whole solution to creating them in the lab, but it will certainly help." said Dr Hollway.

The next phase of the research will see Professor Currie's team identify more of the molecular cues that trigger HSC production.

Phong Dang Nguyen, Georgina Elizabeth Hollway, Carmen Sonntag, Lee Barry Miles, Thomas Edward Hall, Silke Berger, Kristine Joy Fernandez, David Baruch Gurevich, Nicholas James Cole, Sara Alaei, Mirana Ramialison, Robert Lyndsay Sutherland, Jose Maria Polo, Graham John Lieschke, Peter David Currie. Haematopoietic stem cell induction by somite-derived endothelial cells controlled by meox1. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13678

HPV vaccine could 'close the gap' on Australian Indigenous health

August 13, 2014 – In the most comprehensive assesment of its type, UNSW Australia-led research has found that in just four years, the HPV vaccine has resulted in a dramatic drop in genital warts in young Australians from a range of backgrounds, a result that could herald further good news for cervical cancer rates in future.

The research, which was done in collaboration with the University of Sydney, is based on national hospital admission rates and shows a similar result in the female Indigenous population, which has historically had significantly higher rates of cervical cancer. Genital warts and cervical cancer are both caused by HPV.

The work has just been published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

In the four years after the national program for school-aged girls was rolled out in 2007, there was a 90% drop in genital warts for girls aged between 12 and 17, and a 73% decrease for women between 18 and 26 years. The vaccine appeared to have an indirect protective effect among young men between the ages of 18 and 26, with a 38% drop in genital warts even prior to boys being vaccinated at school.

"This is a fantastic outcome," says the senior author of the paper, Associate Professor Karen Canfell, from UNSW's Lowy Cancer Research Centre. "This is a condition which can be distressing and embarrassing and most often occurs when people start to become sexually active."

The vaccine used in the National HPV Vaccination Program in Australia, Gardasil, provides protection against four strains of HPV. HPV 16 and 18 are implicated in several cancers, particularly cervical cancer. Two other strains, HPV 6 and 11 are associated with 90% of genital warts.

"While we expected a drop in genital warts, along with pre-cancerous abnormalities and eventually cervical cancer, as a result of the vaccination program, this result helps us determine how effective the rollout has been," says the lead author, Megan Smith, also from UNSW's Lowy Cancer Research Centre.

Post-vaccination reductions were similar for Indigenous females between the ages of 15 and 24 (87%) and non-Indigenous women (76%).

"This is the first time we've been able to examine the impact of the vaccination on Indigenous women," says Ms Smith who used national data for the study. Some other studies have used data from Pap test registers, which do not record whether an individual is Indigenous.

"Until now, it has been hard to tell how many Indigenous girls have received the vaccine, as not all states record whether the person receiving the vaccine is Indigenous," says Ms Smith, who conducted the research with the University of Sydney.

It is also confirmation of what has been reported at some sexual health clinics.

"Typically, a cervical cancer diagnosis comes later in a woman's life, so this is the first sign we have that young Indigenous girls are being effectively vaccinated" says Megan Smith.

The result holds promise for health equity in years to come, the researchers believe.

"Indigenous women have more than double the rate of cervical cancer than the rest of the female population, so we hope this means there will be a big drop in these rates in in years to come," says UNSW Associate Professor Canfell. The rate of cervical cancer death is more than four times higher for Indigenous women than the rest of the population (4.7 times).

The researchers hope the continuing rollout of the vaccination program and the inclusion of boys since last year will lead to further success.

M. A. Smith, B. Liu, P. McIntyre, R. Menzies, A. Dey, K. Canfell. Fall in Genital Warts Diagnoses in the General and Indigenous Australian Population Following Implementation of a National Human Papillomavirus Vaccination Program: Analysis of Routinely Collected National Hospital Data. Journal of Infectious Diseases, 2014; DOI: 10.1093/infdis/jiu370

New ways to treat solid tumors using protein

August 15, 2014 – An international team of scientists has shown that an antibody against the protein EphA3, found in the micro-environment of solid cancers, has anti-tumor effects. As EphA3 is present in normal organs only during embryonic development but is expressed in blood cancers and in solid tumors, this antibody-based approach may be a suitable candidate treatment for solid tumors.

The researchers from Monash University and Ludwig Cancer Research, in Australia, and KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, in the US, have had their findings published in the journal Cancer Research.

The team, led jointly by the late Professor Martin Lackmann, from the School of Biomedical Sciences at Monash; and Professor Andrew Scott, from Ludwig Cancer Research, has found that even if tumor cells do not have this molecule they can thrive by recruiting and taking advantage of supporting EphA3-containing cells in the tumor micro-environment.

First author, Dr Mary Vail, Monash Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology said: "The tumor cells send out signals to the surrounding area and say: 'We need a blood supply and a foundation upon which to spread'."

"We have shown that EphA3 expressing stromal stem cells, which are produced by the bone marrow, form cells that support and create blood vessels in tumors," Dr Vail said.

Professor Andrew Scott's team at Ludwig introduced human prostate cancer cells into a mouse model to mimic disease progression in humans. EphA3 was found in stromal cells and blood vessels surrounding the tumor.

They also observed that treatment with an antibody against EphA3 (chIIIA4) significantly slowed tumor growth. The antibody damaged tumor blood vessels and disrupted the stromal micro-environment, and cancer cells died because their 'life-support' was compromised.

"In addition, we screened various tumors from patient biopsies - sarcomas, melanomas as well as prostate, colon, breast, brain and lung cancers - and confirmed EphA3 expression on stromal cells and newly forming blood vessels," Professor Scott said.

"Our research findings indicate that the tumor micro-environment is important, and monoclonal antibodies against EphA3 are one way to target and kill a variety of solid tumors as well as blood cancers."

Currently, KaloBios Pharmaceuticals is testing the anti-EphA3 antibody KB004 in a multi-centre Phase I/II clinical trial in Melbourne and the US in patients with EphA3 expressing blood malignancies: AML, MDS and myelofibrosis.

Dr Vail, who collaborated with her former mentor on the project for 10 years, said this research represented Martin Lackmann's life work.

"Martin was dedicated to helping people, and believed that KB004 was a promising therapeutic approach. He rightly anticipated that it would be well-tolerated in cancer patients, and through this collaborative project, his pioneering research has progressed to clinical trials and potentially new treatments for cancer patients," Dr Vail said.

M. E. Vail, C. Murone, A. Tan, L. Hii, D. Abebe, P. W. Janes, F.-T. Lee, M. Baer, V. Palath, C. Bebbington, G. Yarranton, C. Llerena, S. Garic, D. Abramson, G. Cartwright, A. M. Scott, M. Lackmann. Targeting EphA3 Inhibits Cancer Growth by Disrupting the Tumor Stromal Microenvironment. Cancer Research, 2014; 74 (16): 4470 DOI:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-14-0218

Protein found to block benefits of vitamin A cancer therapy

August 14, 2014 - Retinoic acid is a form of vitamin A that is used to treat and help prevent the recurrence of a variety of cancers, but for some patients the drug is not effective. The reason for this resistance was unclear until this week when researchers demonstrated that a protein known as AEG-1 blocks the effects of retinoic acid in leukemia and liver cancer. Because AEG-1 is overexpressed in nearly every cancer, these findings could impact the care of countless cancer patients. 

Details of the study were published this week in the online edition of the journal Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. The team of scientists led by Devan and Sarkar, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., demonstrated that the protein AEG-1 binds to retinoid X receptors (RXR), which help regulate cell growth and development. RXR is typically activated by retinoic acid, but the overexpressed AEG-1 proteins found in cancer cells block these signals and help promote tumor growth. Using complex animal models, the researchers showed that blocking the production of AEG-1 allowed retinoic acid to profoundly kill liver cancer cells.

"Our findings are the first to show that AEG-1 interacts with the retinoid X receptor," says Sarkar, Harrison Scholar at VCU Massey Cancer Center, Blick Scholar and associate professor in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics and member of the VCU Institute of Molecular Medicine (VIMM) at VCU School of Medicine. "This research has immediate clinical relevance such that physicians could begin screening cancer patients for AEG-1 expression levels in order to determine whether retinoic acid should be prescribed."

Sarkar and his colleagues have been studying AEG-1 for years. They were the first to create a mouse model demonstrating the role of AEG-1 in liver cancer, and they have been actively working to develop targeted therapies that block AEG-1 production. The present study expanded their knowledge of the molecular interactions of AEG-1.

"We are continuing to test combination therapies involving AEG-1 inhibition and retinoic acid in animal models, and the initial results are promising," says Sarkar. "If we continue to see these results in more complex experiments, we hope to eventually propose a phase 1 clinical trial in patients with liver cancer."

Jyoti Srivastava, Chadia L. Robertson, Devaraja Rajasekaran, Rachel Gredler, Ayesha Siddiq, Luni Emdad, Nitai D. Mukhopadhyay, Shobha Ghosh, Phillip B. Hylemon, Gregorio Gil, Khalid Shah, Deepak Bhere, Mark A. Subler, Jolene J. Windle, Paul B. Fisher, and Devanand Sarkar. AEG-1 Regulates Retinoid X Receptor and Inhibits Retinoid Signaling. Cancer Research, 2014; DOI:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-14-0421

Scientists boost potential of passive immunization against HIV

August 13, 2014 - Scientists are pursuing injections or intravenous infusions of broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies (bNAbs) as a strategy for preventing HIV infection. This technique, called passive immunization, has been shown to protect monkeys from a monkey form of HIV called simian human immunodeficiency virus, or SHIV. To make passive immunization a widely feasible HIV prevention option for people, scientists want to modify bNAbs such that a modest amount of them is needed only once every few months.

To that end, an NIH-led team of scientists has mutated the powerful anti-HIV bNAb called VRC01 so that, once infused into monkeys, it lasts three times longer in blood than unmutated VRC01, collects in rectal mucosal tissue, and persists there more than twice as long as unmutated VRC01. Concentrating anti-HIV bNAbs at mucosal surfaces of the rectum and vagina, the subject of additional study, is critical for blocking sexual transmission of HIV.

In addition, the scientists found, a low-dose infusion of mutated VRC01 protected monkeys against SHIV infection more effectively than a low-dose infusion of unmutated VRC01.

The mutation works by enhancing VRC01's ability to bind to a cellular protein that prevents the antibody from degrading inside cells and influences how frequently the antibody reaches mucosal surfaces and stays there, the researchers report. This finding may inform antibody-based prevention strategies against not only HIV but also other viruses that invade the body at mucosal surfaces, including rotavirus, poliovirus, norovirus and influenza virus.

Next, the researchers will test infusions of mutated VRC01 in people to learn if it concentrates in mucosal tissues and persists there and in blood for an extended period.

Sung-Youl Ko, Amarendra Pegu, Rebecca S. Rudicell, Zhi-yong Yang, M. Gordon Joyce, Xuejun Chen, Keyun Wang, Saran Bao, Thomas D. Kraemer, Timo Rath, Ming Zeng, Stephen D. Schmidt, John-Paul Todd, Scott R. Penzak, Kevin O. Saunders, Martha C. Nason, Ashley T. Haase, Srinivas S. Rao, Richard S. Blumberg, John R. Mascola, Gary J. Nabel. Enhanced neonatal Fc receptor function improves protection against primate SHIV infection. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13612

Size matters when convincing your brain to eat healthier foods

August 11, 2014 - Variety may trump virtue when it comes to the struggle to eat healthy, says a Vanderbilt marketing professor who studies consumer self-control and endorses "vice-virtue bundles" combining nutritious and not-so-nutritious foods. "We suggest a simple … solution that can help consumers who would otherwise choose vice over virtue to simultaneously increase consumption of healthy foods (virtues) and decrease consumption of unhealthy foods (vices) while still fulfilling taste goals - 'vice-virtue bundles,'" Kelly L. Haws, associate professor of management at Vanderbilt's Owen Graduate School of Management, said.

The idea is to not give up entirely foods that provide pleasure but aren't nutritious. Instead, the focus should be on lowering the portion of the "vice" foods and correspondingly raising the portion of a healthy food to replace it.

In a series of experiments, Haws and her colleagues found that people have a "taste-health balance point" - a proportion of vice and virtuous foods that make up one serving - which they find satisfactory. For most, the perfect vice-virtue bundle is made up of a small (1/4) to medium (1/2) portion of vice. So if a vice-virtue bundle was made up of fries and slices of apple, it might take a small or very small serving of fries to satiate the need for the vice food.

Haws is among five researchers who lay out their findings in "Vice-Virtue Bundles," a paper under review for publication.

Vice-virtue bundles could also be the answer for many in the food service industry who are actively seeking out healthy food options that consumers will voluntarily choose, Haws said.

"Given that consumers consistently find vice-virtue bundles to be attractive, managers should consider adding vice-virtue bundles to their product lines," Haws said.

"For restaurants and food vendors that already offer pure vice and virtue options, vice - virtue bundles provide an opportunity for product line expansion through existing items rather than through development of completely new offerings.

"This provides a potential opportunity for cost-savings, as many food establishments devote considerable resources to developing new product offerings, which can in turn increase inventory or production costs."

This round of research did not mix in any pricing or marketing components, but the researchers say it would be easy for restaurants to pursue such experiments on their own.

"With the right marketing and the right choice sets, we believe that vice-virtue bundles offer exciting directions for future research and practice aimed at maximizing health without compromising tastes," the researchers concluded.

Haws' research interests are related to consumer behavior, with a focus on issues relevant to consumer welfare, specifically with respect to food/health and financial decision making. Her interests include consumer self-control, strategies for improving food consumption and behavioral pricing.

The report can be found online

Scientists link environment, inclusion in adults with disabilities

August 11, 2014 - Kessler Foundation researchers have identified an association between the built environment and disability-related outcomes for adults with physical impairments. The article, Disability and the built environment: an investigation of community and neighborhood land uses and participation for physically impaired adults, was published in the July issue of Annals of Epidemiology. The authors are Amanda Botticello, PhD, MPH, and Nicole Cobbold, BS, of Kessler Foundation, and Tanya Rohrbach, MS, of Raritan Valley Community College, Branchburg, NJ.

Investigators explored the associations between community and neighborhood land uses and community participation using cross-sectional data from 508 community-living adults with acquired chronic disabilities in New Jersey. These data were obtained from the national Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems database. "Studies show that neighborhood characteristics such as poor street conditions, homogeneous land use, traffic, and ambient hazards are largely predictive of more reported health problems, functional limitations, inactivity, and social isolation among older adults. The objective was to look at the impact of the built environment (or the physical features of geographic areas) on the members of the disabled population who are not generally visible in population-based studies, such as persons with chronic spinal cord injury. This line of research may help delineate factors that affect how well a person with an acquired physical disability adjusts to living in the community," said Dr. Botticello, a research scientist in Outcomes & Assessment Research at Kessler Foundation. Dr. Botticello is a co-investigator in the Northern New Jersey SCI System, and an assistant professor at Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School.

Participants' residential addresses were geocoded, enabling individual survey data to be linked with Geographic Information Systems data on land use and destinations. Results showed that living in communities with greater land use mix and more destinations was associated with a decreased likelihood of reporting optimal social and physical participation. Living in neighborhoods with large portions of open space, however, was positively associated with the reporting of full physical, occupational, and social participation.

"Overall our analysis suggested that the living conditions or natural aspects of the local community may be relevant to well-being for persons with physical disabilities living in densely populated regions like New Jersey," noted Dr. Botticello. "These findings focus attention on the environment as an important factor to be considered in disability-related outcomes. They are relevant to those who seek to improve the outlook for community participation, including outcomes researchers, policymakers, and professionals who care for people with disabilities."

Amanda L. Botticello, Tanya Rohrbach, Nicolette Cobbold. Disability and the built environment: an investigation of community and neighborhood land uses and participation for physically impaired adults. Annals of Epidemiology, 2014; 24 (7): 545 DOI: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2014.05.003

Involuntary eye movement a foolproof indication for ADHD diagnosis

August 13, 2014 - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most commonly diagnosed - and misdiagnosed - behavioral disorder in children in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, there are currently no reliable physiological markers to diagnose ADHD. Doctors generally diagnose the disorder by recording a medical and social history of the patient and the family, discussing possible symptoms and observing the patient's behavior. But an incorrect evaluation can lead to overmedication with Ritalin (methylphenidate), which has parents everywhere concerned.

Now a new study from Tel Aviv University researchers may provide the objective tool medical professionals need to accurately diagnose ADHD. According to the research, published in Vision Research, involuntary eye movements accurately reflect the presence of ADHD, as well as the benefits of medical stimulants that are used to treat the disorder.

Keeping an eye on the eyes

Dr. Moshe Fried, Dr. Anna Sterkin, and Prof. Uri Polat of TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Tamara Wygnanski-Jaffe, Dr. Eteri Tsitsiashvili, Dr. Tamir Epstein of the Goldschleger Eye Research Institute at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, and Dr. Yoram S. Bonneh of the University of Haifa used an eye-tracking system to monitor the involuntary eye movements of two groups of 22 adults taking an ADHD diagnostic computer test called the Test of Variables of Attention (TOVA). The exercise, which lasted 22 minutes, was repeated twice by each participant. The first group of participants, diagnosed with ADHD, initially took the test un-medicated and then took it again under the influence of methylphenidate. A second group, not diagnosed with ADHD, constituted the control group.

"We had two objectives going into this research," said Dr. Fried, who as an adult was himself diagnosed with ADHD. "The first was to provide a new diagnostic tool for ADHD, and the second was to test whether ADHD medication really works - and we found that it does. There was a significant difference between the two groups, and between the two sets of tests taken by ADHD participants un-medicated and later medicated."

Foolproof, affordable, and accessible diagnosis

The researchers found a direct correlation between ADHD and the inability to suppress eye movement in the anticipation of visual stimuli. The research also reflected improved performance by participants taking methylphenidate, which normalized the suppression of involuntary eye movements to the average level of the control group.

"This test is affordable and accessible, rendering it a practical and foolproof tool for medical professionals," said Dr. Fried. "With other tests, you can slip up, make 'mistakes' - intentionally or not. But our test cannot be fooled. Eye movements tracked in this test are involuntary, so they constitute a sound physiological marker of ADHD.

"Our study also reflected that methylphenidate does work. It is certainly not a placebo, as some have suggested."

The researchers are currently conducting more extensive trials on larger control groups to further explore applications of the test.

Moshe Fried, Eteri Tsitsiashvili, Yoram S. Bonneh, Anna Sterkin, Tamara Wygnanski-Jaffe, Tamir Epstein, Uri Polat. ADHD subjects fail to suppress eye blinks and microsaccades while anticipating visual stimuli but recover with medication.Vision Research, 2014; 101: 62 DOI: 10.1016/j.visres.2014.05.004

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.




The epic adventure of James Cameron's dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench is coming to a theater near you in 2014. What would you be willing to risk to follow your dream? James Cameron was willing to risk it all. See for yourself in DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D

 Agreement boosts urban sustainability

August 11, 2014 – A new five-year agreement between the United Nations Global Compact and RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, will strengthen efforts to tackle the world's urban challenges.

The agreement will boost the reach and work of the Global Compact Cities Programme, with RMIT committing $AUS5 million in funding until 2019.

Hosted by RMIT in Melbourne since 2008, the Cities Programme is the urban component of the UN Global Compact and is dedicated to the promotion and adoption by cities of the initiative's 10 principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.

Under the new agreement, the Cities Programme will aim to expand into the Asia-Pacific and double the number of signatory cities: the 86 currently participating cities range from large metropolitan capitals (Barcelona, Melbourne, Berlin, Quito) to states (Sao Paulo and Parana in Brazil, Queretaro in Mexico) and municipalities (Besiktas in Turkey, San Isidro in Argentina).

Professor Calum Drummond, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation and Vice-President, said RMIT was delighted to confirm its strengthened commitment to hosting the international secretariat of the Cities Programme.

"Building partnerships between city governments, civil society and the business community is very important to RMIT, as a global university and as a corporate citizen," Professor Drummond said.

"We are committed to enabling positive, timely impact for society and for the environment."

As part of its commitment to the Cities Programme, RMIT will invest in a Cities Development manager with expertise in Asia and appoint a range of urban specialists in resilience and adaptation; food, water and energy security; housing and poverty; governance and planning; and urban form and mobility.

UN Global Compact Executive Director Georg Kell said: "The Global Compact believes that cities have the potential to make enormous strides in creating sustainable societies, and is grateful that RMIT University has committed to drive our Cities Programme forward.

"We have seen how cities and states can overcome complex challenges by taking an approach that considers a broad range of sustainability principles covering human rights, labour standards, environment and anti-corruption, and then working with business and civil society to find lasting solutions."

RMIT's Professor Ralph Horne has been appointed new Director of the Cities Programme, bringing international expertise and leadership in sustainability and urban development issues.

"I am delighted to accept this invitation to lead the Cities Programme through the next 5 years of expansion and development," Professor Horne said.

"I look forward to contributing to new collaborations and new solutions that improve the lives of urban dwellers across the world in tangible ways."

Professor Horne is a leader in research and practice on urban issues, leading more than 100 industry-linked research projects on the built environment, urban sustainability and social change since 2005.

He was previously Director of RMIT's Centre for Design (2005-12) and served on the Board of the Green Building Council of Australia (2010-13). He is currently Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation, for RMIT's College of Design and Social Context.

With the addition of a range of urban specialists to the Cities Programme staff and greater collaboration with Global Compact Local Networks, the new agreement with RMIT will provide city participants with stronger local relationships, as well as global connectedness and better recognition.

Other aims for the Global Compact Cities Programme over the next five years include:

deepening engagement with leader cities such as Medellin (Colombia), Porto Alegre (Brazil), Barcelona (Spain) to draw on their innovation and good practice, to inform and inspire other cities

assisting more signatory cities to become Global Compact city leaders who share their good practice and knowledge with other cities

undertaking the first major survey of all signatory cities (2014-15)

establishing cluster networks of cities within countries and states, with new regional secretariats to build partnerships with private sector and NGO's

enabling cities to better compare practices and innovations, collaborate on solutions to urban development challenges, and celebrate and share their successes

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

2014 Eureka Prize finalists announced

Finalists for the 2014 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes have been announced!

Presented annually by the Australian Museum, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes rewards excellence in four categories - Research & Innovation, Leadership, Science Communication & Journalism and School Science. This year the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes culminates in a gala Award Dinner where 15 awards will be announced in celebration of Australian science.  

Each prize is judged by a panel of eminent and qualified individuals, whose contribution of expertise and time helps support the credibility of the Eureka Prizes.

The 15 prize winners are to be announced September 10.ANSTO's Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology is one of the prizes and is awarded to an Australian individual, team or organisation that has used new or existing technology in an innovative way to significantly improve the outcome of their research. 

Technology has the potential to significantly improve our daily lives, increase our standard of living and help solve today's key challenges in energy, health, information and communication, materials and our environment. The innovative application of technology facilitates new insights and a new way of viewing a problem that can lead to significant scientific breakthroughs.  

The ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology rewards the innovative application of technology in Australia and here are the nominees for 2014:

DIY Droplet Lens, Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Australian National University The traditional light microscope is bulky and expensive. Dr Tri Phan and Dr Steve Lee used gravity to manufacture high-performance polymer lenses. These can be seamlessly integrated with 3D printing and mini-LEDs to produce a cheap, portable microscope device that is digital and web-enabled to transform smartphones into mobile laboratories, all for just for $2 each. 

FREO2, University of Melbourne and DETECT Australia Globally, pneumonia kills more children than any other illness. Oxygen treatment could save many lives, but a lack of reliable electricity means that small clinics rarely have it. To meet this challenge the FREO2 (Fully Renewable Oxygen) team is developing a low-cost, electricity-free oxygen concentrator for developing countries. 

Monash Engineering, Monash University Stimuli-responsive polymer hydrogels have been developed by the Monash Engineering team as a new class of osmotic agent for extracting fresh water from saline water and wastewaters using sunlight or low-grade heat sources. They provide a low-cost, environmentally friendly technology for producing clean water with important economic, environmental and social benefits. 

To see the full list of finalists visit the Australian Museum website

 Bilingualism Research Lab to drive Australian study of language

July 11, 2014 

A new initiative by the University of Western Sydney in partnership with Jinan University (Guangzhou) in China will draw on the experiences of Western Sydney's multicultural community to create the Bilingualism Research Lab.

The Lab is the first joint venture of its kind and will take advantage of UWS's longstanding research into bilingualism as well as its vast network of migrant community partnerships to investigate how people learn English, Chinese and other languages.

By applying a scientific approach to examine the lived experiences of thousands of bilingual Australians, researchers will develop new techniques for teachers, parents and children to promote global citizenship.

To expand the research profile and teaching expertise of the Lab, Jinan University in Guangzhou will send academics, educators and students to work with their UWS counterparts in Australia. 

The UWS Head of the China Liaison Unit and co-founder of the Lab, based at UWS Bankstown campus, Dr Ruying Qi, says the initial focus will be the study of Chinese and English before expanding to include other languages.  

"Australia has a proud history of migrants raising their children bilingually, and we need to draw on the lessons they have learned if we want to give all Australians the benefit of speaking more than one language," says Dr Qi, author of Bilingual Acquisition of English and Mandarin: Chinese Children in Australia and two time winner of the Australian national teaching citation awards.

"The Bilingualism Research Lab will work with multicultural communities in Western Sydney to learn more about inter-generational migrant families, how they promote their languages, and the techniques they use to engender a passion in their children for their linguistic heritage."

"We will then use this knowledge to develop new strategies for teachers and students to give all Australians the generous and global mindset provided by the knowledge of multiple languages."

The project is a joint initiative of the Dean of the UWS School of Humanities and Communication Arts, Professor Peter Hutchings, the Vice President of Jinan University Professor Lin Ruping, and the Dean of the College of Chinese Language and Culture at Jinan University, Professor Guo Xi.

Professor Hutchings says the University of Western Sydney is in a unique position to take the Australian lead in researching bilingualism.

"Greater Western Sydney is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse populations in the world, and UWS can take advantage of our existing community and business partnerships, as well as our relationship to Jinan University, to drive this new initiative," says Professor Hutchings.

"Approximately one third of UWS students speak a second language, and we see this as a significant advantage as we strive to become a hub of language research and teaching in Australia."

The first initiative of the Bilingualism Research Lab saw researchers and teachers meet with bilingual community members and leaders at Cabramatta in Sydney's south west.

The Bilingualism Research Lab was officially launched with the assistance of Professor Zhang Jun from Jinan University and ARC Laureate Fellow and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language Distinguished Professor Nick Evans.

 Queensland And Victoria Claim Open Longboard Titles At The 2014 Australian Surf Festival

August 12, 2014

Clinton Guest (Burleigh Waters, Qld) and Emma Webb (Jan Juc, Vic) have been crowned 2014 Australian Open Longboard Champions, claiming titles in clean two-to-three foot waves at the 2014 Australian Surf Festival.

Guest and Webb took the victories for Queensland and Victoria when they took out the prestigious titles in waves that ran 100-to-200-metres down the length of Arrawarra Headland.

Guest was arguably the underdog going into the Open Mens final, facing off against former World Longboard Champion Harley Ingleby (Emerald Beach, NSW), 2013 Open Mens Longboard Champion Jared Neal (Sapphire Beach, NSW) and Justin Redman (Dunsborough, WA). However, Guest stepped up to the plate and was able to post a 9.00 wave score (out of a possible ten points) and an 8.45 for a series of critical turns and lengthy nose-rides. Despite moments of brilliance from all competitors, Guest’s aforementioned waves scores enabled him to narrowly keep on top of the Open Mens runner-up (Ingleby) and take the win by a mere 0.40 points.

“I think I just surfed the heat of my life,” said Guest. “I knew it’d take something pretty special to beat guys like Harley and Jared at their local break and Justin Redman as well. I can’t believe I came away with the win. I had a special board that I rode a few years ago and it’s been in the cupboard for a little while and I knew that I’d have to go as hard as I possibly could to get a win over them. Fortunately, we played gentleman’s rules over the course of the final as well, which made it nice and fair. I’ve been dreaming about winning this since I was a kid.”

Emma Webb (Jan Juc, Vic) managed to bag the Australian Open Womens final, locking in a heat total of 15.50 (out of a possible 20 points). The Victorian surfer was able to steal the win in the dying minutes from back-to-back Australian Title runner-up Erin Dark (Tugan, Qld), who was leading the charge for the majority of the heat. Kathryn Hughes (Currimundi, Qld) took third and Lara Murphy (North Bondi, NSW) claimed fourth spot.

“I am so stoked,” said Webb. “At the end of the heat, I thought Erin actually won, so I was massively relieved when they told me my final score was enough to take the lead. I just tried to win with my turns as I knew all the other competitors were amazing at nose-riding.”

The Australian Surf Festival at Coffs Harbour is set to attract more than 500 surfers from around the country, over the 18-day event period.

A hotline – 0458 247 212 – is operating for the festival which will feature a recorded message updated at 6:45am each morning with the confirmed daily schedule and contest venue.

Coffs Harbour is home to a number of great beach break options that work in a variety of wind and swell conditions. The main base for the event will be Park Beach which is located north east of the Coffs Harbour CBD. The event is fully mobile in the Coffs Harbour region with numerous beach break options which include Park Beach, Macauley’s Beach, Diggers Beach, Jetty Beach, Gallows, Arrawarra Beach, Mulloway Beach, Woolgoolga Beach, Emerald Beach and Sapphire Beach.

Live results and daily news will be updated

The 2014 Australian Surf Festival is proudly supported by the NSW Government through its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW. The event is also proudly supported by Coffs Harbour City Council, Coffs Coast Tourism, Wahu, The Hoey Moey, Nikon, Toyota, Pacific Longboarder, FCS, Australian Institute of Sport, Surfing NSW and Surfing Australia.


Open Men

1 – Clinton Guest (Burleigh Waters, Qld)

2 – Harley Ingleby (Emerald Beach, NSW)

3 – Justin Redman (Dunsborough, WA)

4 – Jared Neal (Sapphire Beach, NSW)

Open Women

1 – Emma Webb (Jan Juc, Vic)

2 – Erin Dark (Tugan, Qld)

3 – Kathryn Hughes (Currimundi, Qld)

4 – Lara Murphy (North Bondi, NSW)

Photo: Congratulations Clinton Guest - 2014 Australian Longboard Champion

 Bats bolster brain hypothesis, maybe technology, too

August 15, 2014 - Amid a neuroscience debate about how people and animals focus on distinct objects within cluttered scenes, some of the newest and best evidence comes from the way bats "see" with their ears, according to a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology. In fact, the perception process in question could improve sonar and radar technology.

Bats demonstrate remarkable skill in tracking targets such as bugs through the trees in the dark of night. Brown University neuroscience Professor James Simmons, the review paper's author, has long sought to explain how they do that.

It turns out that experiments in Simmons' lab point to the "temporal binding hypothesis" as an explanation. The hypothesis proposes that people and animals focus on objects versus the background when a set of neurons in the brain attuned to object features all respond in synchrony, as if shouting in unison "yes, look at that!" When the neurons don't respond together to an object, the hypothesis predicts, an object is relegated to the perceptual background.

Because bats have an especially acute need to track prey through crowded scenes, albeit with echolocation rather than vision, they have evolved to become an ideal testbed for the hypothesis.

"Sometimes the most critical questions about systems in biology that relate to humans are best approached by using an animal species whose lifestyle requires that the system in question be exaggerated in some functional sense so its qualities are more obvious," said Simmons, who plans to discuss the research at the 2014 Cold Spring Harbor Asia Conference the week of September 15 in Suzhou, China.

A Focus of Frequencies

Here's how he's determined over the years that temporal binding works in a bat. As the bat flies it emits two spectra of sound frequencies - one high and one low- into a wide cone of space ahead of it. Within the spectra are harmonic pairs of high and low frequencies, for example 33 kilohertz and 66 kilohertz. These harmonic pairs reflect off of objects and back to the bat's ears, triggering a response from neurons in its brain. Objects that reflect these harmonic pairs back in perfect synchrony are the ones that stand out clearly for the bat.

Of course it's more complicated than just that. Many things could reflect the same frequency pairs back at the same time. The real question is how a target object would stand out. The answer, Simmons writes, comes from the physics of the echolocation sound waves and how bat brains have evolved to process their signal. Those factors conspire to ensure that whatever the bat keeps front-and-center in its echolocation cone will stand out from surrounding interference.

The higher frequency sounds in the bat's spectrum weaken in transit through the air more than lower frequency sounds. The bat also sends out the lower frequencies to a wider span of angles than the high frequencies. So For any given harmonic pair, the farther away or more peripheral a reflecting object is, the weaker the higher frequency reflection in the harmonic pair will be. In the brain, Simmons writes, the bat converts this difference in signal strength into a delay in time (about 15 microseconds per decibel) so that harmonic pairs with wide differences in signal strength end up being perceived as way out of synchrony in time. The temporal binding hypothesis, predicts that the distant or peripheral objects with these out-of-synch signals will be perceived as the background while front-and-center objects that reflect back both harmonics with equal strength will rise above their desynchronized competitors.

With support from sources including the U.S. Navy, Simmons's research group has experimentally verified this. In key experiments (some dating back 40 years) they've sat big brown bats at the base of a Y-shaped platform with a pair of objects - one a target with a food reward and the other a distractor - on the tines of the Y. When the objects are at different distances, the bat can tell them apart and accurately crawl to the target. When the objects are equidistant, the bat becomes confused. Crucially, when the experimenters artificially weaken the high-pitched harmonic from the distracting object, even when it remains equidistant, the bat's acumen to find the target is restored.

In further experiments in 2010 and 2011, Simmons' team showed that if they shifted the distractor object's weakened high frequency signal by the right amount of time (remember: 15 microseconds per decibel) they could restore the distractor's ability to interfere with the target object by restoring the synchrony of the distractor's harmonics. In other words, they used the specific predictions of the hypothesis and their understanding of how it works in bats to jam the bat's echolocation ability.

If targeting and jamming sound like words associated with radar and sonar, that's no coincidence. Simmons works with the U.S. Navy on applications of bat echolocation to navigation technology. He recently began a new research grant from the Office of Naval Research that involves bat sonar work in collaboration with researcher Jason Gaudette at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I.

Simmons said he believes the evidence he's gathered about the neuroscience of bats not only supports the temporal binding hypothesis, but also can inspire new technology.

"This is a better way to design a radar or sonar system if you need it to perform well in real-time for a small vehicle in complicated tasks," he said.

J. A. Simmons. Temporal binding of neural responses for focused attention in biosonar. Journal of Experimental Biology, 2014; 217 (16): 2834 DOI:10.1242/%u200Bjeb.104380

Picture: Bats send out harmonic pairs of frequencies to sense where things are. The strength differences in the high and low frequencies in the pair (minimal in red, greater in blue) help the bat focus on the target front and center, according to research by Brown neuroscientist James Simmons. Credit: James Simmons/Brown University

 New tool makes a single picture worth far more than a thousand words

August 14, 2014 – A photo is worth a thousand words, but what if the image could also represent thousands of other images?

New software developed by UC Berkeley computer scientists seeks to tame the vast amount of visual data in the world by generating a single photo that can represent massive clusters of images. This tool can give users the photographic gist of a kid on Santa's lap, housecats, or brides and grooms at their weddings. It works by generating an image that literally averages the key features of the other photos.

Users can also give extra weight to specific features to create subcategories and quickly sort the image results. In this way, blue-winged butterflies or orange tabby cats might rise to the top of photo collections.

The research, led by Alexei Efros, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, was presented Aug. 14 at the International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, or SIGGRAPH, in Vancouver, Canada.

The authors noted that since photography was invented, there have been an estimated 3.5 trillion photos taken, including 10 percent within the past year. Facebook reports 6 billion photo uploads per month on its site, and YouTube gets 72 hours of video uploaded every minute.

"Visual data is among the biggest of Big Data," said Efros, who is also a member of the UC Berkeley Visual Computing Lab. "We have this enormous collection of images on the Web, but much of it remains unseen by humans because it is so vast. People have called it the dark matter of the Internet. We wanted to figure out a way to quickly visualize this data by systematically 'averaging' the images."

Efros worked with Jun-Yan Zhu, UC Berkeley computer science graduate student and the paper's lead author, and Yong Jae Lee, former UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher, to develop the system, which they have dubbed AverageExplorer.

The researchers provided examples of potential applications of this system, such as in online shopping, where a consumer may want to quickly home in on two-inch wedge heels in the perfect shade of red. Or perhaps media analysts would like to see Stephen Colbert's typical body posture when the face of President Barack Obama appears in the graphic over his shoulder.

Lee, now an assistant professor in computer sciences at UC Davis, said the system could also be used to help improve the ability of computer vision systems to distinguish key features in an image, such as the tires on a car or the eyes on a face. When users mark those features on an average image, the entire collection of images is automatically annotated as well.

"In computer vision, annotations are used to train a system to detect objects, so you might mark the eyes, nose and mouth to teach the computer what a human face looks like," said Lee. "Lots of data is needed to accurately train the system, so reducing the amount of effort and time to do this is critical. Instead of annotating each image individually, with AverageExplorer, we only need to annotate the average image, and the system will automatically propagate the annotations to the image collection."

The researchers were inspired by artists like James Salavon, who has created average images from hundreds of photos of kids with Santa, newlyweds or baseball players to illustrate a concept. Average images can provide interesting insights, such as the convention in Western culture for brides to wear white and stand to the right of the groom in formal portraits, or for youth baseball players to get down on one knee in their official photo.

Many of the manual steps Salavon used to sort and align his images are now automated through the UC Berkeley tool.

Funding from Google, Adobe and the Office of Naval Research helped support this work.

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Berkeley. The original article was written by Sarah Yang.