Inbox and Environment News Issue 181 

 September 21 - 27, 2014: Issue 181



Australia's cultural institutions risk losing their relevance if they don't increase their use of digital technologies and services, new research has shown.

Released today by CSIRO, an analysis of Australia's galleries, libraries, archives and museums (or GLAM industry) has revealed that digital innovation in the sector is inconsistent and isolated. The report provides a roadmap for the industry in order for it to maximise the potential of the digital economy.

With Australia's rapid uptake of online and mobile platforms, people are now choosing to access and share information in very different ways.

According to Dr Michael Bruenig, Acting Director of CSIRO's Digital Productivity Flagship, many of Australia's cultural institutions have not kept pace with this change.

"The report identified that only a few organisations have made fundamental changes to their operations that would allow them to place digital services at their core, rather than as an 'add-on' activity," he said.

The few cultural institutions that are embracing digital technology are reaping the benefits.

"For example, it is now possible to visit the National Museum virtually via a guided robot. This innovation means school students in regional Australia are able explore exhibits and engage with the museum, when they otherwise would not have the opportunity to," Dr Bruenig said.

The report also showed that Australia is falling behind international best-practice in digitising over 100 million artworks, books and audio-visual items. According to Dr Bruenig, this slow progress means we risk losing public visibility of cultural and heritage material of significance.

"The way Australia's collections are managed varies considerably. Some progressive institutions have collections that are fully digitised and can be accessed virtually over the web. However unfortunately some of Australia's collections are still managed through log books and card indices," he said.

The report outlines several recommendations that would allow the GLAM industry to take full advantage of digital technology. These include:

• Shifting to open access models and greater collaboration with the public

• Exploring new approaches to copyright management that stimulates creativity and supports creators 

• Sharing skills, standards and approaches to digitisation building on aggregation initiatives like Trove and the Atlas of Living Australia

• Standardising preservation of 'born digital' material to avoid losing access to digital heritage

• Sharing capability, storage and networks between organisations in the sector, exploiting the potential of AARNet and the NBN for collection and collaboration.

According to Dr Bruenig, by adopting these recommendations and building on some innovative examples in the sector, Australia's GLAM industry will be in a position to embrace digital, rather than be engulfed by it.

The report, conducted in partnership with the Smart Services CRC, is based on consultation with representatives from state, national and local galleries, libraries, archives and museums, researchers and international experts.

An Innovation Study: Challenges and Opportunities for Australia's Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums can be downloaded at: HERE

Picture: These robots roam the halls of the National Museum of Australia

 Dr Mary McAleese in Conversation with Professor Rónán McDonald 

by UNSW - Published on 17 Sep 2014

Former President of Ireland Dr Mary McAleese reflects on her distinguished career and her life since the presidency, and her thoughts about contemporary Irish society, the peace process and the Irish diaspora. 

 The UN Turns 70 

Published on 17 Sep 2014

United Nations - As the UN celebrates its 70th anniversary we highlight the iconic moments of our enduring commitment to peace, development and security. Strong UN. Better World.

 Nature's designs inspire research into new light-based technologies

September 17, 2014 – “Nature has developed, very cleverly, some lessons on how to create the features that we desire in optical design," said Joseph Shaw, director of the Optical Technology Center at Montana State University. "As we explore surfaces and structures at the nanoscale, we'll discover them."

Some of those lessons were presented in San Diego in August during a conference called "The Nature of Light: Light in Nature" chaired by Shaw and Rongguang Liang of the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences. The conference was part of SPIE Optics + Photonics, sponsored by SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

The conference is particularly relevant as the optics and photonics community prepares for the United Nations International Year of Light 2015, Shaw said. "Such lessons from nature not only remind us of how light-based technologies touch all of our lives and help solve challenges in energy, healthcare, communications, and other areas, but they also remind us to pause and appreciate the visual beauty found throughout nature."

Shaw, whose research as a professor in electrical and computer engineering involves developing optical sensors for applications ranging from imaging of clouds to laser-detection of fish, said that observing how nature solves problems is particularly helpful for optical designers and engineers working with very small structures.

Insect wings that absorb all of the visible light spectrum and iridescent shells, for example, each possess optical surfaces that might find design applications one day, perhaps as camouflage.

Some wings have antireflective cone-like structures of a few nanometers that absorb virtually the entire visible spectrum, a team from the University of Namur (Louis Dellieu, et al.) reported. In the grey cicada, absorption is a product of the distinctive shape of tiny surface cones.

Iridescence of the lining of mollusk shells was explored by a team from Colgate University (R. A. Metzler, et al.), who reported on the polarization effects of the lining, known as nacre, or mother of pearl. It consists of up to 30,000 layers of tiny calcium carbonate "bricks" - just 0.5 microns, or a 200th of the diameter of a human hair - held together by a "mortar" of organic chitin. Reflected light from the lining produces the shells familiar array of colors.

"We have the tools for nanoengineering and nanoexploration," Shaw said. "We can do reverse engineering of the structures."

Color of vivid blue pools, some as hot as 250 degrees Fahrenheit, at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana has only little to do with reflection of sky light, a paper by Shaw and others reported. The blue comes from the scatter of particles in the water. The deeper the water, the more dominant the scatter and the richer the blue. Red, orange, and yellow colors of other pools are driven by varieties of microbes on the rock surfaces under the water and related to the temperature of water in each pool.

Applications of these findings could include using a color imager to infer information about such pools and their resident microbe communities and what causes their presence. This could connect with NASA-funded research, because of the similarity of Yellowstone microbes with possible early forms of life on Earth and other planets. Ongoing Yellowstone research is even exploring how these microbes might inspire development of alternative fuels.

Optical labs looking for higher-efficiency solar cells or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) might one day use genetic algorithms to streamline their work. A team from Namur University of Namur (Alexandre Mayer, et al.), noting that thinking through a design question could mean millions or billions of options to check, demonstrated that a genetic algorithm can quickly make many small changes. A lab might need to explore only a few hundred options instead of millions. The genetic algorithm would work the way natural evolution does: scanning all the possibilities and quickly narrowing down the search.

The above story is based on materials provided by SPIE. Picture: Understanding how particle scatter (above) and minerals (top) affect water color in pools at Yellowstone National Park may provide important information for the development of alternative fuels. SPIE Optics + Photonics, with results published in the SPIE Digital Library. Photograph by Joseph Shaw

 Entrepreneurs aren't overconfident gamblers, researchers say

September 17, 2014 - Leaving one's job to become an entrepreneur is inarguably risky. But it may not be the fear of risk that makes entrepreneurs more determined to succeed. A new study finds entrepreneurs are also concerned about what they might lose in the transition from steady employment to startup.

In "Entrepreneurship and Loss-Aversion in a Winner-Take-All Society," Professor John Morgan at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business and co-author Dana Sisak, assistant professor at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, focused on the powerful impact of loss aversion.

Loss aversion, or the fear of losing one's salary at a full-time job, along with its prestige, is directly linked to the amount of effort an entrepreneur puts into a startup. Loss aversion, the researchers found, is what drives most entrepreneurs, not a love of risk.

"There is a view that entrepreneurs are often overconfident gamblers, who thrive on risk, yet there is little evidence to support this view," says Morgan, who studies competition in online markets at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "Entrepreneurs aren't Steve Jobs. They're just ordinary people who want to start a business. I wanted to try to understand a little better what motivated those individuals."

Many studies focus on what makes a successful entrepreneur different than the rest of us. Morgan sought to learn what motivates individuals to sacrifice a secure job, and what determines an entrepreneur's effort to succeed.

The study is based on a theoretical model the researchers developed and was inspired by the dramatic stories people like to tell about risk-taking entrepreneurs.

All entrepreneurs have a "reference point," which defines how they feel about their salary or, say, happiness level, compared to others, Morgan says. That reference point is not connected to profits and losses, but is directly linked to how much or little the entrepreneurs are willing to lose when starting a company.

Morgan and Sisak found an entrepreneur's level of ongoing concern about loss aversion correlates with entrepreneurial effort. In other words, entrepreneurs who put a high stake on avoiding loss - more so than acquiring new gains - worked harder.

Morgan used a winner-take-all framework, which is common within the Internet startup environment, for his study of entrepreneurs. Startups such as Facebook or Twitter might not offer the best platforms, but still dominate their markets. In markets such as real estate, where there is no clear single winner, this model would be less appropriate, Morgan says. "For every Facebook, there were hundreds of failed ventures," he says. "We model this aspect of entrepreneurial markets explicitly." This research can help entrepreneurs gain self-knowledge so they make better decisions and have a clear understanding of "why they're doing what they're doing," Morgan says.

"One of the most important traps entrepreneurs fall into is when they're not experiencing success and they become increasingly willing to take risks because of where they are psychologically," he says. "One lesson from the research is to be careful when you are behind. It's not necessarily the best decision to double down."

In other words, risk aversion can be a good thing.

See the paper

 A new director for the all-sky astronomers

12 September 2014 - From today, the nation-wide ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics has a new director, Professor Elaine Sadler, Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney.

She succeeds Professor Bryan Gaensler, also at the School of Physics at the University, who has led CAASTRO since its inception in 2011. 

Professor Sadler has a distinguished record in optical and radio astronomy, with more than 150 refereed publications to her name.

"My interest in astronomy began when I was about eight and was given a book with pictures of telescopes and the Universe which got me thinking about big questions. By eleven I wasthe youngest member of the local amateur astronomical society in Guildford, (England) whose members were bemused but welcoming. My path was set."

After obtaining her PhD from the Australian National University in 1983, Professor Sadler held positions at the European Southern Observatory and at Kitt Peak National Observatory in the USA, before returning to Australia to join what is now the Australian Astronomical Observatory.

She moved to the University of Sydney in 1993.

"I held three ARC Fellowships back to back so I had time to carry out research projects with a broad scope. Over eight years, with my colleagues here in Sydney, I used the University's Molonglo radio telescopes to make a radio atlas of the entire southern sky which is used by astronomers all over the world. "

That work started Professor's Sadler's continuing involvement with wide-field astronomy and the interpretation of big data sets, both of which CAASTRO excels in. A focus of her research has been the changing nature of galaxies over cosmic time and the symbiotic relationship between black holes and galaxies.

In 2011 she became Professor of Astrophysics and a Chief Investigator in CAASTRO.

"I was involved in the foundation and funding of CAASTRO so I'm very happy to be in a position now to advance the organisation, especially through wider national and international networks."

"I'd especially like to build on our links with China and other countries in Asia. They are making major investments in radio and optical astronomy, and China and Australia are already working together as part of the international team involved in developing the Square Kilometre Array telescope."

Professor Sadler was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2010 and as chair of its National Committee for Astronomy, led a planning review that set strategic directions for Australian astronomy.

At an international level, during 2009-12 Professor Sadler served as President of the Division VIII (Galaxies and the Universe) of the International Astronomical Union, the world's coordinating body for astronomy.

Active in training and mentoring young astronomers, Professor Sadler particularly supports initiatives to increase the representation of women in astronomy and other sciences.

"CAASTRO is already a leader in initiatives to benefit women in science, including a move initiated by my predecessor Professor Gaensler to make all positions in the organisation available as part-time roles. Men and women, but especially women with young children, have taken advantage of that flexibility."

"It is these sorts of practical measures and action at the top that will make a difference to women's participation."

CAASTRO is funded under the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence program and receives additional funding from the seven participating universities and the NSW State Government Science Leveraging Fund.

 Nemo can travel great distances to connect populations: Baby clownfish travel hundreds of kilometers across open ocean

September 17, 2014 – Clownfish spend their entire lives nestling in the protective tentacles of host anemones, but new research shows that as babies they sometimes travel hundreds of kilometres across the open ocean. Although the process of long-distance dispersal by reef fish has been predicted, this is the first time that the high level exchange of offspring between distant populations has been observed.

Dr Steve Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology and Global Change at the University of Exeter, and colleagues from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (ARC COE CRS), Sultan Qaboos University (Oman) and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France) have published their findings on the dispersal of Omani clownfish larvae in the journal PLOS ONE.

The study found that six percent of the fish sampled had migrated over 400 km from one population to the other, which, contrary to the film Finding Nemo, is a process that only occurs during the ocean-going larval stage.

"This is an epic journey for these tiny week-old fish. When they arrive at the reef, they are less than a centimetre long, and only a few days old, so to travel hundreds of kilometres they must be riding ocean currents to assist their migration," said Dr Simpson.

Dr Simpson led a team of undergraduate and postgraduate students from the University of Edinburgh to collect the clownfish samples from throughout southern Oman.

"The southern coast of Oman is relatively isolated from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula so you find a lot of species there that you wouldn't find anywhere else in the world," said Dr Simpson. "There are only two coral reef systems along this coast, and they are separated by 400 km of surf beaches. In order to persist as a single species, we know Omani clownfish fish must occasionally migrate between these two populations."

The team used DNA fingerprinting to identify local, long-distant migrant, and hybrid individuals from populations throughout the entire Omani clownfish (Amphiprion omanensis) species range. Around 400 fish were harmlessly caught during 92 dives, and a small fin clip taken for DNA analysis before releasing fish back to their colonies.

"Just like accents that allow us to tell an Englishman from an American, fish populations develop their own genetic signatures," said co-author Hugo Harrison from the ARC COE CRS. "By looking at the signature of each fish we can tell whether it originated there or not. It's like finding an Englishman in New York, they stand out."

The DNA evidence identified that the majority of migrant fish had travelled from north to south and so, to test whether this was due to prevailing currents, the team developed an oceanographic model for the region.

"We found that the pattern of migration corresponded to the dominant ocean currents in the region that are driven by the winter monsoon," said co-author Michel Claereboudt from Sultan Qaboos University.

As well as migrants, second generation hybrids were also identified in both populations, showing that after dispersal migrants had joined and reproduced with local populations.

"This study is the furthest anyone has tracked the dispersal of coral reef fish, and it demonstrates that distant populations in the marine environment can be well connected," said Simpson. "Our ability to predict how far fish larvae disperse helps us to manage coral reef ecosystems. Understanding connectivity means we can protect populations that are most sensitive, harvest from populations that have a regular and consistent turn-over, and design coherent networks of marine protected areas."

The Omani coastline is an arid desert and the expedition took months of preparations for the harsh conditions. The 24 students and researchers were trained by Simpson and his dive instructors in SCUBA diving, emergency first aid and off-road driving. The team camped in areas that were isolated and dived at sites that had never been dived before.

"This was a turning point in my career," said co-author Hugo Harrison. "At that stage I'd never seen a coral reef or experienced how diverse these ecosystems can be. Many of us on this expedition went on to pursue careers in marine science, and my work now is focused on improving the management of these fragile ecosystems."

The project was highly commended by the Duke of Edinburgh, who invited the team to Buckingham Palace to hear more about the expedition.

Steve Simpson, Hugo Harrison, Michel Claereboudt and Serge Planes. Long-distance dispersal via ocean currents connects Omani clownfish populations throughout entire species range. PLoS One, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107610

As babies, clownfish sometimes travel hundreds of kilometres across the open ocean. Credit: Tane Sinclair-Taylor

UNSW’s Kirby Institute Annual Report Into Sexually Transmissible Infections

Thursday, 18 September 2014- University of New South Wales Kirby Institute released the latest statistics on HIV, Hepatitis, and STIs this week and includes some rises in some areas.

The Annual Surveillance Report has been published each year since 1997. The Annual Surveillance Report provides a comprehensive analysis of HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia and includes estimates of incidence and prevalence of HIV and viral hepatitides, by demographic and risk groups, patterns of treatment for HIV and viral hepatitis infection, and behavioural risk factors for HIV and hepatitis C infection.

From their HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia Annual Surveillance Report 2014 

Sexually transmissible infections other than HIV

• Chlamydia was the most frequently reported notifiable condition in Australia in 2013 with 82 537 diagnoses. The population rate of diagnosis of chlamydia in 2013 was 359 per 100 000 population, a decline on the rate for 2012 (364). This is the first occurrence of a reversal in the increasing trend in rates of chlamydia diagnosis from the commencement of notification by all state and territory health jurisdictions in 1999.

• One case of donovanosis was notified in 2009, 2010 and 2012, demonstrating the continuing success of efforts to eliminate donovanosis from the Australian population.

• The number of cases of gonorrhoea notified in 2013 was 14 947.The rate of diagnosis of gonorrhoea increased by 72%, from 37.5 per 100 000 population in 2009 to 64.6 in 2013, with increasing diagnoses in both males and females. 

• The number of cases of infectious syphilis notified in 2013 was 1 765, the highest number recorded in Australia. The rate of diagnosis of infectious syphilis increased among males from 5.0 in 2004 to 14.0 in 2013. Increased rates of diagnosis of infectious syphilis in 2013 occurred in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria, particularly among gay men, and declining rates were reported in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

• The rate of diagnosis of chlamydia in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population was three times that in the non-Indigenous population in 2009 – 2013. The rate of diagnosis of gonorrhoea in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population was between 13 to 24 times higher than the rate in the non-Indigenous population.

• Following the introduction of vaccination against human papilloma virus, the proportion of young women aged 21 years or younger who were diagnosed with genital warts at their first visit to a sexual health centre decreased from 14% in 2007 to 1% in 2013

Retrieved from:  HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia Annual Surveillance Report 2014 (2.5MB)

See more at:

 Change laws to exempt unwell doctors from mandatory reporting

16 September 2014 - Medico-legal experts who are calling for legislative changes exempting doctors from mandatory reporting, say current laws pose a risk to the public because they deter doctors from seeking medical consultations when they most need it.

In a report published in today's Journal of Law and Medicine, the authors say an exemption to mandatory reporting in Western Australian legislation provides a model for amending equivalent laws in others jurisdictions, which could pave the way for nationally consistent legislation.

The call to amend and harmonise mandatory reporting laws also has the backing of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and a 2011 Senate Committee inquiry.

"Doctors who are unwell need to feel they can attend their treating doctor without the stumbling block of mandatory reporting," says University of Sydney psychiatrist, Associate Professor Louise Nash, a co-author of the report.

"Current mandatory reporting requirements may be a deterrent for some doctors to seek medical care. However, without the mandatory reporting requirement, an ethical obligation remains to report a doctor who is considered a risk to public safety."

The authors point to findings from a recent national survey of doctors as an indicator of the barriers doctors experience in seeking treatment for their own mental health issues.

According to the 2013 Beyond Blue survey of more than 12,000 doctors, the leading barriers to seeking help were:

• lack of confidentiality or privacy (reported by 52%)

• embarrassment (37%)

• impact on registration and right to practice (34%)

• preference to rely on self or not seek help (30%)

• lack of time (29%)

• concerns about career development or progress (27%).

Doctors in Australia have always had an ethical duty to report doctors whose practice puts patient at risk of harm; however the passing of state and territory laws between 2008-10 made mandatory reporting a legal requirement. These laws currently apply to 14 health practitioner groups, including medical practitioners.

"Mandatory reporting laws were introduced as a response to perceived failures in medical self-regulation," says Nick Goiran, a Western Australian MLC and co-author of the report.

"They were intended to protect the public from dangerous or poorly performing medical practitioners, following a string of notorious cases in the mid-2000s.

"Embedded in these laws is the legal obligation for registered health professionals to report 'notifiable conduct' to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency if, in the course of their practice they form a reasonable belief that another health practitioner has behaved in a way that constitutes notifiable conduct.

Western Australian law legislation does not oblige health practitioners to report what they consider as notifiable conduct or impairment when providing healthcare to another health practitioner.

In comparison to Western Australia, the authors suggest that mandatory reporting may actually increase risks to the public rather than decrease it because it can deter doctors from seeking help.

 Expect more deadly pandemics

15 September 2014 - Australia should upgrade its infectious disease control capabilities by adopting a US-style Centers of Disease Control, according to a University of Sydney expert who warns that the world will see more frequent epidemics.

"Despite our advancing ability to fight infectious disease epidemics and rapidly identify the microbes that cause them, we should expect new and more frequent epidemics as human populations get bigger and better connected," says Professor Eddie Holmes, who will speak at the University of Sydney's 21st Century Medicine Series on Wednesday 17th September.

"When humans made the shift from hunter-gatherer to an agricultural society they created the first big opportunity for the rise and spread of infectious diseases in humans," says Holmes, an evolutionary biologist who has studied viruses and other microbes for over 20 years.

"As we settled in large villages and began living closely with farming animals we optimised the conditions for viruses and bacteria to move from animals to humans.

Epidemics like the plague, Ebola, and the avian flu are examples of deadly diseases that jumped the species boundary from animals to humans.

"Fast forward to the 21st century, with its megacities, factory-farmed animals, and millions of people jetting around the world daily and nowhere is safe - not even a relatively isolated place like Australia."

Originally trained as an anthropologist - his doctoral research focused on the evolutionary history of human populations - Professor Holmes first got hooked on viruses during a postdoctoral post at the University of California, Davis.

Since then he has expanded his research to include important human and animal virus such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C, yellow fever, dengue, rabies, bat lyssaviruses and influenza.

"Whether a virus can jump species depends on the interplay between ecology and genetics," says Holmes, whose recent work reveals the basic ground rules of disease emergence.

As an example of such a rule, Holmes says we're more vulnerable to viruses from other mammals rather than plants because we have similar cells - a subject explored in frightening detail by author David Quammen, in Spillover.

Professor Holmes says that a globally connected surveillance and response network with rapid access to shared data, clear national response protocols, and the capacity to rapidly coordinate and deploy appropriate infection control resources, provides the best option to protect against pandemic disease.

Health Papers published this week:

Researcher develops, proves effectiveness of new drug for spinal muscular atrophy

September 15, 2014 - According to recent studies, approximately one out of every 40 individuals in the United States is a carrier of the gene responsible for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a neurodegenerative disease that causes muscles to weaken over time. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have made a recent breakthrough with the development of a new compound found to be highly effective in animal models of the disease. In April, a patent was filed for the compound for use in SMA.

"The strategy our lab is using to fight SMA is to 'repress the repressor,'" said Chris Lorson, a researcher in the Bond Life Sciences Center and professor in the MU Department of Veterinary Pathobiology. "It's a lot like reading a book, but in this case, the final chapter of the book - or the final exon of the genetic sequence - is omitted. The exciting part is that the important chapter is still there - and can be tricked into being read correctly, if you know how. The new SMA therapeutic compound, anantisense oligonucleotide, repairs expression of the gene affected by the disease."

In individuals affected by SMA, the spinal motor neuron-1 (SMN1) gene is mutated and lacks the ability to process a key protein that helps muscle neurons function. Muscles in the lower extremities are usually affected first, followed by muscles in the upper extremities, including areas around the neck and spine.

Fortunately, humans have a nearly identical copy gene called SMN2. Lorson's drug targets that specific genetic sequence and allows proper "editing" of the SMN2 gene. The drug allows the SMN2 gene to bypass the defective gene and process the protein that helps the muscle neurons function.

Lorson's breakthrough therapeutic compound was patented in April. His research found that the earlier the treatment can be administered in mice with SMA, the better the outcome. In mice studies, the drug improved the survival rate by 500 to 700 percent, with a 90 percent improvement demonstrated in severe SMA cases, according to the study.

Although there is no cure for SMA currently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has listed SMA as the neurological disease closest to finding a cure, due in part to effective drugs like the one developed in Lorson's lab.

Lorson's study, "Morpholino antisense oligonucleotides targeting intronic repressor Element1 improve phenotype in SMA mouse models," was published in September 2014 in the Journal of Human Molecular Genetics. Graduate student Erkan Osman was the lead author. The study was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, a training grant and a fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

E. Y. Osman, M. R. Miller, K. L. Robbins, A. M. Lombardi, A. K. Atkinson, A. J. Brehm, C. L. Lorson. Morpholino antisense oligonucleotides targeting intronic repressor Element1 improve phenotype in SMA mouse models.Human Molecular Genetics, 2014; 23 (18): 4832 DOI: 10.1093/hmg/ddu198

Impact of socioeconomic position, maternal morbidity in Australia

September 17, 2014 – The risk of severe maternal morbidity amongst women in Australia is increased by lower socioeconomic position, suggests a new study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 

Australians generally enjoy high standards of living; however, existing research has concluded that health disparities exist, in particular between indigenous and non indigenous Australians.

This case-control study aimed to explore the independent impact of socioeconomic position on severe maternal morbidities associated with direct maternal death (amniotic fluid embolism, placenta accreta, peripartum hysterectomy, eclampsia or pulmonary embolism) amongst women in Australia. Data were collected through the Australasian Maternity Outcomes Surveillance System. In total, there were 620 cases and 820 controls used.

Results show that socioeconomic status was directly associated with maternal morbidity, with women with severe maternal morbidity being twice as likely to come from the lowest socioeconomic group compared with women who did not have maternal morbidity.

Maternal age was also significantly associated with maternal morbidity, with women aged between 30 and 34 being 1.4 times more likely and women aged 35 and over being 2.3 times more likely to suffer from maternal morbidity.

Furthermore, having given birth previously was found to be protective against maternal morbidity, whereas women who had reported previous pregnancy complications were 1.3 times more likely to experience severe maternal morbidity.

The number of previous caesarean deliveries was also significantly associated with maternal morbidity, with one caesarean delivery having double the risk of morbidity and two caesarean deliveries having four times the risk of severe maternal morbidity compared to women with no previous caesarean delivery.

Additionally, women who were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders were 1.46 times more likely to suffer severe maternal morbidity. However, much of this increased risk is mitigated after adjustment for socioeconomic position, suggesting that socioeconomic factors may play a part in observed inequalities in pregnancy outcomes between indigenous and non-indigenous Australian women.

The authors of the study conclude that the risk of severe maternal morbidity amongst women in Australia is significantly increased by social disadvantage and future efforts in improving maternity care provision and maternal outcomes in Australia should include socioeconomic position as an independent risk factor for adverse outcome.

Professor Marian Knight, from the National Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford and co-author of the study, said:

"Despite universal healthcare in Australia, free at the point of access, socially marginalized women experience poorer maternal health outcomes, in terms of specific severe maternal morbidities, than those from higher socioeconomic groups. This has wide-ranging implications for health policy and the provision of maternity services.

"Identifying high-risk women is critical for the prevention of adverse outcomes as it allows targeted interventions and intensive clinical management of specific groups. Future planning to improve maternity service provision must focus on socially disadvantaged women in order to improve maternal health outcomes.

John Thorp, BJOG Deputy Editor-in-chief said:

"The results of this study provide further evidence to highlight the link between maternal morbidity and other risk factors such as advanced maternal age and previous caesarean delivery. This is the first nationwide study in Australia to investigate the risk of severe maternal morbidity amongst women from different socioeconomic groups.

"Further studies are needed in countries with less accessible healthcare systems to investigate the impact of socioeconomic position and potential factors to improve it. Additionally, further investigation of the outcomes of maternity care amongst different ethnic groups may help to identify actions to reduce other inequalities which have been identified in the UK."

A Lindquist, N Noor, E Sullivan, M Knight. The impact of socioeconomic position on severe maternal morbidity outcomes among women in Australia: a national case-control study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.13058

Effect of magnesium sulfate during pregnancy on very preterm infants

September 16, 2014 - Magnesium sulfate given intravenously to pregnant women at risk of very preterm birth was not associated with benefit on neurological, behavioral, growth, or functional outcomes in their children at school age, according to a study in the September 17 issue of JAMA.

Rates of adverse long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes for infants born at less than 28 weeks' gestation remain high relative to full-term infants. Among the multiple uses for magnesium sulfate in obstetrics is as a neuroprotectant for preterm fetuses. Antenatal (before birth) magnesium sulfate given to pregnant women at imminent risk of very preterm delivery reduces the risk of cerebral palsy in early childhood, although its effects into school age have not been reported from randomized trials, according to background information in the article.

Lex W. Doyle, M.D., M.Sc., of the University of Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues randomly assigned magnesium sulfate or placebo to pregnant women (n = 535 magnesium; n = 527 placebo) for whom imminent birth was planned or expected before 30 weeks' gestation. The trial was conducted in 16 centers in Australia and New Zealand.

There were 1,255 fetuses known to be alive at randomization. Of 867 survivors available for follow-up, outcomes at school age (6 to 11 years) were determined for 669 (77 percent). The researchers found that receipt of antenatal magnesium sulfate was not associated with any long-term benefits or harms compared with placebo on measures of neurological, cognitive, behavioral, growth, and functional outcomes. There was a nonsignificant reduction in the risk of death in the magnesium sulfate group.

The authors note that the absence of benefit does not negate the proven value of magnesium sulfate in reducing cerebral palsy, based on the collective evidence from all of the randomized clinical trials.

They add that the lack of long-term benefit requires confirmation in additional studies.

Lex W. Doyle, Peter J. Anderson, Ross Haslam, Katherine J. Lee, Caroline Crowther.  School-age Outcomes of Very Preterm Infants After Antenatal Treatment With Magnesium Sulfate vs Placebo. JAMA, 2014; 312 (11): 1105 DOI:10.1001/jama.2014.11189

Asian Americans lower insulin resistance on traditional diet

September 17, 2014 - Why are Asian Americans at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than Caucasian Americans, and prone to develop the disease at lower body weights? One part of this puzzle may lie in the transition from traditional high-fiber, low-fat Asian diets to current westernized diets, which may pose extra risks for those of Asian heritage, says George King, M.D., Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at Joslin Diabetes Center and the senior author of the study.

A Joslin randomized clinical trial now has demonstrated that both Asian Americans and Caucasian Americans at risk of type 2 diabetes who adopted a rigorously controlled traditional Asian diet lowered their insulin resistance. (A leading risk factor for developing the disease, insulin resistance is a condition in which the body struggles to use the hormone insulin, which helps to metabolize sugar.)

Moreover, when both groups of participants then switched to consuming typical western fare, the Asian Americans experienced greater increases in insulin resistance than did the Caucasian Americans, says Dr. King, senior author on a paper on the study published in the journal PLOS One.

The 16-week pilot trial was completed by 24 East Asian Americans and 16 Caucasian Americans, who had an average age of 34 and were either of normal weight or overweight but not obese. All the volunteers had a family history of type 2 diabetes or another indication of diabetes risk such as gestational diabetes.

For the first eight weeks, all the participants ate a traditional high-fiber East Asian diet with 70% of calories from carbohydrates, 15% from protein and 15% from fat, and providing 15 g fiber/1,000 kcal. The food was prepared fresh by local chefs and delivered every two days. "Three meals and one snack were included each day, and we made sure that they were nutritious as well as very tasty," says Ka Hei Karen Lau, a Joslin dietitian and certified diabetes educator.

For the second eight weeks, 33 of the volunteers (20 Asian Americans and 13 Caucasian Americans) transitioned to a typical low-fiber western diet with 50% of calories from carbohydrates, 16% from protein and 34% from fat, and providing 6 g fiber/1,000 kcal. Seven volunteers (4 Asian Americans and 3 Caucasian Americans) stayed on the traditional Asian diet to act as controls for the study.

Meeting with the trial participants every two weeks, the Joslin team adjusted individual diets as needed to keep their weights relatively steady, so that changes in their metabolism were not driven primarily by changes in weight.

Maintaining those steady body weights for trial participants was a challenge, King remarks. "It was almost impossible to prevent people from losing weight on the Asian diet, and that was not because the food wasn't good!" he says. "And almost everybody gained weight on the western diet, and we had to work very hard so they didn't gain too much."

The researchers suggested that the combination of high fiber and low fat in the traditional diet may help to explain the decrease in insulin resistance, especially for the Asian American participants.

Additionally, those on the traditional Asian diet lowered their LDL cholesterol, a potential benefit for cardiovascular health.

"These results were very exciting for Asian Americans," Lau says. "We are at high risk for diabetes, but we can use diet to help prevent it."

Joslin's Asian Clinic now promotes a traditional Asian diet and shares suitable recipes with patients. The researchers hope to follow up the pilot trial with a larger trial that compares results of a traditional Asian diet with a westernized Asian diet and does not try to control participant weight.

Asian Americans have about 20% higher risks of developing type 2 diabetes than Caucasian Americans. More than half of the adults in the world with the disease live in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, the researchers pointed out, and about 10% of adults in China now suffer from diabetes.

A book written by Dr. King, Diabetes Reset, will be publishing in early 2015. In the book, it talks more about the traditional Asian diet, and eight steps to prevent and control diabetes.

William C. Hsu, Ka Hei Karen Lau, Motonobu Matsumoto, Dalia Moghazy, Hillary Keenan, George L. King. Improvement of Insulin Sensitivity by Isoenergy High Carbohydrate Traditional Asian Diet: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Feasibility Study. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (9): e106851 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0106851

Certain gut bacteria may induce metabolic changes following exposure to artificial sweeteners

September 17, 2014 - Artificial sweeteners - promoted as aids to weight loss and diabetes prevention - could actually hasten the development of glucose intolerance and metabolic disease, and they do so in a surprising way: by changing the composition and function of the gut microbiota - the substantial population of bacteria residing in our intestines. These findings, the results of experiments in mice and humans, were published September 17 in Nature. Dr. Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science's Department of Immunology, who led this research together with Prof. Eran Segal of the Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, says that the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in drinks and food, among other things, may be contributing to the obesity and diabetes epidemic that is sweeping much of the world.

For years, researchers have been puzzling over the fact that non-caloric artificial sweeteners do not seem to assist in weight loss, with some studies suggesting that they may even have an opposite effect. Graduate student Jotham Suez in Dr. Elinav's lab, who led the study, collaborated with lab member Gili Zilberman-Shapira and graduate students Tal Korem and David Zeevi in Prof. Segal's lab to discover that artificial sweeteners, even though they do not contain sugar, nonetheless have a direct effect on the body's ability to utilize glucose. Glucose intolerance - generally thought to occur when the body cannot cope with large amounts of sugar in the diet - is the first step on the path to metabolic syndrome and adult-onset diabetes.

The scientists gave mice water laced with the three most commonly used artificial sweeteners, in amounts equivalent to those permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These mice developed glucose intolerance, as compared to mice that drank water, or even sugar water. Repeating the experiment with different types of mice and different doses of the artificial sweeteners produced the same results - these substances were somehow inducing glucose intolerance.

Next, the researchers investigated a hypothesis that the gut microbiota are involved in this phenomenon. They thought the bacteria might do this by reacting to new substances like artificial sweeteners, which the body itself may not recognize as "food." Indeed, artificial sweeteners are not absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, but in passing through they encounter trillions of the bacteria in the gut microbiota.

The researchers treated mice with antibiotics to eradicate many of their gut bacteria; this resulted in a full reversal of the artificial sweeteners' effects on glucose metabolism. Next, they transferred the microbiota from mice that consumed artificial sweeteners to "germ-free," or sterile, mice - resulting in a complete transmission of the glucose intolerance into the recipient mice. This, in itself, was conclusive proof that changes to the gut bacteria are directly responsible for the harmful effects to their host's metabolism. The group even found that incubating the microbiota outside the body, together with artificial sweeteners, was sufficient to induce glucose intolerance in the sterile mice. A detailed characterization of the microbiota in these mice revealed profound changes to their bacterial populations, including new microbial functions that are known to infer a propensity to obesity, diabetes, and complications of these problems in both mice and humans.

Does the human microbiome function in the same way? Dr. Elinav and Prof. Segal had a means to test this as well. As a first step, they looked at data collected from their Personalized Nutrition Project (, the largest human trial to date to look at the connection between nutrition and microbiota. Here, they uncovered a significant association between self-reported consumption of artificial sweeteners, personal configurations of gut bacteria, and the propensity for glucose intolerance. They next conducted a controlled experiment, asking a group of volunteers who did not generally eat or drink artificially sweetened foods to consume them for a week, and then undergo tests of their glucose levels and gut microbiota compositions.

The findings showed that many - but not all - of the volunteers had begun to develop glucose intolerance after just one week of artificial sweetener consumption. The composition of their gut microbiota explained the difference: the researchers discovered two different populations of human gut bacteria - one that induced glucose intolerance when exposed to the sweeteners, and one that had no effect either way. Dr. Elinav believes that certain bacteria in the guts of those who developed glucose intolerance reacted to the chemical sweeteners by secreting substances that then provoked an inflammatory response similar to sugar overdose, promoting changes in the body's ability to utilize sugar.

Prof. Segal states, "The results of our experiments highlight the importance of personalized medicine and nutrition to our overall health. We believe that an integrated analysis of individualized 'big data' from our genome, microbiome, and dietary habits could transform our ability to understand how foods and nutritional supplements affect a person's health and risk of disease."

According to Dr. Elinav, "Our relationship with our own individual mix of gut bacteria is a huge factor in determining how the food we eat affects us. Especially intriguing is the link between use of artificial sweeteners - through the bacteria in our guts - to a tendency to develop the very disorders they were designed to prevent; this calls for reassessment of today's massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances."

Jotham Suez, Tal Korem, David Zeevi, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Christoph A. Thaiss, Ori Maza, David Israeli, Niv Zmora, Shlomit Gilad, Adina Weinberger, Yael Kuperman, Alon Harmelin, Ilana Kolodkin-Gal, Hagit Shapiro, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Eran Elinav. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13793

Testosterone therapy should only be for men with hypogonadism, experts say

September 17, 2014 - The Endocrine Society testified today at a meeting of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discussing the appropriate population for testosterone replacement therapy and the potential for adverse cardiovascular outcomes associated with its use. Though testosterone use has sharply increased among older men in the past decade, the Society told the FDA that testosterone therapy should be limited to men who meet the diagnostic guidelines for hypogonadism.

Testosterone is a key male sex hormone involved in maintaining sex drive, sperm production and bone health. Since testosterone levels tend to naturally decline as men age, lower levels of the hormone do not necessarily mean that an individual has hypogonadism, a condition that results from low testosterone. Clinical manifestations of hypogonadism may include decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, breast enlargement and infertility.

Testifying before the FDA joint meeting of the Bone, Reproductive and Urologic Drugs Advisory Committee and the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee on behalf of the Endocrine Society, Ronald Swerdloff, MD, professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said testosterone treatment should be limited to men who have clinical manifestations of hypogonadism and consistently low testosterone levels.

"The Endocrine Society also recommends that more data be collected on men of different ages to better establish the serum testosterone thresholds for specific organ-related symptoms and signs, and to determine which clinical manifestations will benefit from replacement testosterone therapy," Swerdloff testified.

The Society further recommended that a large-scale, well-controlled study be conducted to assess long term cardiovascular and prostate risks associated with testosterone replacement treatment.

Dr. Swerdloff was an author of the Endocrine Society's clinical practice guideline, "Testosterone Therapy in Adult Men with Androgen Deficiency Syndromes." This report can be found online at: HERE (PDF)

Role of hormone in response to ovarian cancer treatment

September 17, 2014 - Researchers at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island recently published the results of an investigation into how we might better tailor therapy for ovarian cancer.

The work comes out of the molecular therapeutic laboratory directed by Richard G. Moore, MD, of Women & Infants' Program in Women's Oncology. Entitled "HE4 expression is associated with hormonal elements and mediated by importin-dependent nuclear translocation," the research was recently published in the international science journalScientific Reports, a Nature publishing group.

The goal of the study was to investigate the role of the hormone HE4 in modulating an ovarian cancer's response to hormones and hormonal therapies. HE4 is a biomarker that is elevated in ovarian cancer and is known to play a role in resistance to chemotherapy.

"There is little known about the biologic functions of HE4 but we did know that there were hormonal responsive elements within the promoter region of the HE4 gene, which regulates gene expression. For this reason, we hypothesized that steroid hormones could influence expression of HE4 in ovarian cancer," Moore explains.

The study resulted in multiple findings:

Hormonal therapies like Tamoxifen and Fulvestrant are effective because they bind the estrogen receptor. If cells have less estrogen receptor expression, these drugs can't do their job. This, the researchers believe, is due to epigenetic modifications which modify the DNA structure but not the DNA sequence itself. Overexpression led to the epigenetic modification known as decreased DNA methylation in cell culture and in human tissue samples.

Treatment of ovarian cancer cells with Tamoxifen and Fulvestrant all cause HE4 to translocate to the nucleaus, where it can then effect further gene expression in cancer cells.

Using the drug Ivermectin, the researchers were able to inhibit the protein import in-4, which then inhibited HE4 from translocating to the nucleus. If HE4 can't enter the nucleus, it cannot affect gene expression. The ability to block HE4 from entering the nucleus restored sensitivity to hormonal therapy.

"We are not certain but believe this might mean there could be a subset of women whose tumors are more likely to respond to hormonal therapy. Moreover, we might be able to eventually identify which tumors these are and target treatment," Moore says.

His lab will continue to investigate the expression of estrogen receptors in both primary and recurrent ovarian cancers and how that relates to HE4 expression. In addition, he and other researchers will investigate how importin inhibitors may play a role in addressing chemoresistance to standard therapeutics, particularly in HE4 overexpressing tumors.

Elizabeth Lokich, Rakesh K. Singh, Alex Han, Nicole Romano, Naohiro Yano, Kyukwang Kim, Richard G. Moore. HE4 expression is associated with hormonal elements and mediated by importin-dependent nuclear translocation. Scientific Reports, 2014; 4 DOI: 10.1038/srep05500

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.

Spring Equinox - 2014

September Equinox in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia is on Tuesday, 23rd of September 2014 at 12:29 PM AEST

 Magpie swooping season is here

Media release: 16 September 2014

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is reminding people that it’s the time of the year when there is an increased risk of swooping magpies as it’s the bird’s breeding season.

The NPWS receives many phone calls about swooping magpies at this time of year, and reports have already been received from around the Sydney – particularly the south-western suburbs.

Magpies are very protective parents and they may swoop anyone seen as an intruder who might harm their chicks.

In the vast majority of cases the swooping is simply bluff, however sometimes people can receive minor head injuries as a result of swooping magpies.

There are a few things that people can do to reduce risks:

walk away from the area and warn others about risky locations,

don’t provoke the birds,

wear a hat or helmet to protect your head,

hold an umbrella or stick above your head to deter attacks but don’t swing it at the magpie as this will only provoke it to attack,

hurry past nesting sites confidently and quickly or better still, avoid nesting sites,

if on a bike, dismount to avoid falling off, and move away quickly.

The protective behaviour lasts only a few weeks. For the rest of the year the magpie is peaceful and valuable as an insect eater, renowned for its pleasant warbling.

Magpies are a protected species and it is against the law to kill them, collect their eggs, or harm their young.

Further information about magpies can be found on the NPWS

 35-year plan for a healthier and more resilient Great Barrier Reef released for Comment - Feedback

Joint media release - 15 September 2014

A new long-term sustainability plan to protect and manage the Great Barrier Reef for the next 35 years has been released for comment by the Australian and Queensland governments. 

Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell said the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan satisfied a longstanding requirement by UNESCO. 

"This has been a collaborative effort from key organisations, scientists and industry groups including Agforce, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Ports Australia, Queensland Conservation Council, Regional Natural Resource Management Groups and World Wildlife Fund," Mr Powell said. 

"As we promised we have done more than any other government to ensure the Great Barrier Reef remains an iconic World Heritage site now and into the future. 

"Its release is another illustration of meeting UNESCO's requirements and continuing the great work we have been doing in ensuring the Great Barrier Reef remains an iconic world heritage site." 

Mr Powell said the plan brought together a range of existing initiatives under the one umbrella to ensure greater efficiency and effectiveness. 

"While the management of the Great Barrier Reef is a collective responsibility, and a matter of global interest, the fact remains this icon is a part of Queensland and it is vital that it is protected and managed now and into the future," Mr Powell said. 

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan was an overarching framework for managing the Reef from 2015 to 2050. 

"This Reef Plan is the Queensland and Australian Governments' commitment to working with industry and the community to improve the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef for future generations," Mr Hunt said. 

"The plan sets out targets and actions to help safeguard the Reef against threats such as poor water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish; improve its resilience to challenges like storms and cyclones; and conserve species such as turtles and dugongs while supporting existing sustainable activities including tourism, agriculture, shipping, fishing and more. 

"Maintaining and protecting this iconic World Heritage Area, while considering the needs for long-term sustainable development, is a critical priority. 

"I now encourage people to read the plan and take this opportunity to help shape the long term future of the Reef." 

Visit to download the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, and make a submission online, by email or post. Supporting information to assist people to make a submission will also be available on the website.

The Australian and Queensland government has released the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan for public comment for a six week period until 27 October 2014

 Prize for two decades of work protecting central Australia's Lake Eyre Basin

18 September 2014

UNSW biologist Professor Richard Kingsford is a key scientific member of the Lake Eyre Basin Partnership that has won the prestigious Australian River Prize of $200,000 for its work in protecting this iconic river system. It remains one of the world’s largest free-flowing river systems.

The award from the International River Foundation, which recognises outstanding, visionary and sustainable programs in river management, was announced at the 17th International River Symposium in Canberra.

The 2014 prize to the Lake Eyre Basin Partnership breaks new ground in that it has rewarded protection, rather than rehabilitation, as was the case with all previous winners.

Lake Eyre Basin covers almost one sixth of Australia and is one of the largest internally draining river systems on the planet. At its heart lies Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, more than 15 metres below sea level.

The rivers and creeks from NSW, South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland that feed the desert basin undergo a boom and bust cycle, with unpredictable periods of flooding and drying.

“In 1995, the threat of water resource development upstream galvanised scientists, local communities and governments to protect these magnificent rivers,” says Professor Kingsford, Director of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science.

“None of the precious water flowing into the basin ever goes to waste, supplying waterholes and spectacular wetlands. Rain can bring an extraordinary explosion of wildlife in the desert, including frogs, turtles and up to a million waterbirds.”

The two-decade long partnership led to a shared vision between widely diverse groups - Aboriginal communities, scientists, conservationists, pastoral and agriculture interests, mining and petroleum industries, tourism, and all levels of government.

A key achievement was the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement focusing state, territory, and federal governments on the overarching goal of cross-border protection of river flows and catchments.

“The bonds between local communities, scientists and governments grow stronger every year. We have been able to keep the rivers much healthier than many river systems in other arid zones in Australia and around the world, particularly the Murray-Darling Basin,” says Professor Kingsford.

“But we have to be very vigilant. I am concerned that new threats are appearing. The current Queensland Government has revoked the Wild Rivers legislation and allowed the development of water licences through trading.

“There is also considerable proposed exploration and possible development of unconventional gas, including coal seam gas and shale gas. This presents a considerable concern for water quality and floodplain impacts,” he says.

The prize money will be invested in continuing the work to protect the rivers.

 Project to build acceptance of recycled drinking water wins international award

17 September 2014

An innovative UNSW project aimed at building long-term community acceptance of drinking recycled water has won the 2014 WateReuse International Award in Dallas, Texas.

Acknowledging that people have concerns about drinking recycled water, the National Demonstration, Education & Engagement Program (NDEEP) was developed to research potable reuse schemes and design communication strategies to be used by the water industry.

Three out of four Australians say they would drink purified recycled water, and many people think it’s an integral part of our future water security.

The project found while water recycling is generally perceived positively, challenges remain in managing public responses to drinking treated waste-water in Australia.

Led by Professor Greg Leslie from the School of Chemical Engineering and Dr Matthew Kearnes from the Environmental Humanities program in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the project also drew on research from UNSW Medicine.

“Australia is regarded as one of the driest continents in the world, but to date we’ve found it difficult to implement new ways of sourcing water for our major cities,” said Dr Kearnes.

“The controversies surrounding desalination and water recycling schemes are an indication that we need to find new ways of engaging the public.”

Water treatment engineers, water quality scientists, social scientists, media experts and communication specialists collaborated on the project to develop new insights and innovative materials to communicate drinking recycled water.

The project also examined seven international potable reuse schemes, assessed the resilience and reliability of water treatment technologies and identified risk factors that should be prevented in the provision of safe drinking supplies.

Professor Leslie said an important aspect of the project was an assessment of the resilience of the treatment process used in potable reuse schemes.

“Results indicate the most common failures in the treatment process result in a loss of production capacity rather than the delivery of water that does not meet quality standards,” he said.

Dr James Wood and Dr Laura Onyango from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine and Professor Judy Motion from UNSW Arts and Social Sciences also took part in the project.

NDEEP is funded by the Australia Water Recycling Centre of Excellence and involves a consortium more than 20 organisations from Australia and overseas, including water utilities, universities and private companies.

The Centre is now pursuing partnerships with a variety of organisations in Australia, the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa, to use and trial a suite of technical products, engagement strategies and education materials.

 Australia's biodiversity: inland waters 

by CSIRO - Published on 16 Sep 2014

Even though it is one of the world's most arid continents, Australia's inland waters support a rich diversity of life. Dr Carmel Pollino talks about Australia's unique inland water ecosystems and how water can best be managed for the benefit of biodiversity and our communities. 

Access CSIRO's book Biodiversity: Science and Solutions for Australia -

Katandra Sanctuary Open

Katandra opens to the public every Sunday in July, August, September and October 10am - 4pm.

New Trustee appointments The Lands Department has appointed a new Trust for the next 5 years which includes three of the current trustees: Jenny Talbot, Lyn McDougall and David Seymour; and four new trustees: David James, Lachlan Laurie, Marita Macrae and Tim Thurston. Many thanks to the outgoing trustees, Margaret Seymour, John Gale, Ros Andrews and Garry Hewitt.

Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) Petition

1 Million Women is proud to be one of hundreds of women’s organisations working with The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) gathering signatures for the WECAN Women’s Climate Declaration.

The Women’s Climate Declaration signatures will be delivered along with other signature campaigns to world leaders at UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit in New York City on 23rd Sept, 2014.  

We are gathering 1 Million Women signatures to add to the declaration. Your name will be one of thousands helping to galvanise world leaders to take action on climate change. Let your voice be heard.

Sign the WECAN Global Women's Declaration

 Rare Swift Parrot sighted on way home

Media release: 17 September 2014

A small flock of Swift Parrots - one of Australia’s most endangered birds - has been spotted feeding in Deepwater Park along the George’s River at Milperra for the first time.

The first ever recorded sightings in the area were made on 24th August this year, with a further twelve elusive Swift Parrots recorded last Friday 12th September.

Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) Senior Natural Heritage Officer Debbie Andrew said Swift Parrots were also seen feeding on the blossom of the distinctive Blue Box for the first time, which is currently flowering in Deepwater Park.

“Eucalyptus trees do not flower every year, so seeing Swift Parrots in a new area, displaying unrecorded feeding behaviour is a unique experience,” Ms Andrew said.

“Swift Parrots have not been seen in inland NSW forests this year as flowering there has been poor, which shows how important the remaining coast and river bank forests, such as Deepwater Park, are for the survival of these beautiful birds.

“There are thought to be about 2000 Swift Parrots left in the wild with the birds migrating between their summer homes in Tasmania and their winter and spring homes in New South Wales and parts of Victoria.

“The Swift Parrot is endangered under both NSW and Commonwealth legislation and recording an entry in the Atlas of NSW Wildlife, the database that records wild animal sightings in NSW, is a special event.

“The Swift Parrot is a small bright green fast flying parrot that can be distinguished from small lorikeets, such as the Little and Musk Lorikeets, by its long tail and red plumage – both under the wing and under the tail and by its distinctive call,” Ms Andrew said.

Ms Andrew said that the largest population of Musk Lorikeets seen in the area for over twenty years have also been recorded feeding in the Blue Box Eucalypts, with hundreds of the brightly coloured parrots including Rainbow and Scaley-breasted Lorikeets currently in Deep Water Park.

“150 species of birds have been recorded in a 1km area of Deepwater Park this year and right now Deepwater Park is buzzing with colourful bird life,” Ms Andrew said.

“The birds have chosen an endangered Blue Box forest which was once much more widespread but now only exists in the Sydney region along the Georges River, Prospect and Cabramatta Creeks.

“Early Australian botanist J H Maiden wrote that the Blue Box trees were “objects of beauty,” and even in the 19th century warned land owners to think twice before destroying them,” Ms Andrew said.

Further information on the Swift Parrot can be found Swift Parrot photo by JJ Harrison

 Effect of ocean acidification: Coral growth rate on Great Barrier Reef plummets in 30-year comparison

September 17, 2014 –  A team of researchers working on a Carnegie expedition in Australia's Great Barrier Reef has documented that coral growth rates have plummeted 40% since the mid-1970s. The scientists suggest that ocean acidification may be playing an important role in this perilous slowdown.

In a quest for historical context on the peril facing coral reefs, the team compared current measurements of the growth rate of a section of Australia's Great Barrier Reef with similar measurements taken more than 30 years ago. Their work is published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.

Coral reefs are havens for biodiversity and crucial for the economies of many coastal communities. But they are very sensitive to changes in ocean chemistry resulting from human activity. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution about one-third of the carbon dioxide, CO2, which has been released into the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion and land use change has been absorbed by the oceans, where it damages coral reefs.

Coral reefs use a mineral called aragonite to make their skeletons, a process called calcification. It is a naturally occurring form of calcium carbonate, CaCO3. When carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, it forms carbonic acid, H2CO3, which makes the ocean more acidic and decreases its pH. This makes it more difficult for many marine organisms to grow their shells and skeletons, and threatens coral around the globe.

Recent studies have shown a reduction in individual coral growth in the Great Barrier Reef, southern Thailand, and the central Red Sea of between 13 percent and to 24 percent over the last few decades. But well-characterized observations of carbonate chemistry trends weren't made at those sites, so it isn't possible to draw a direct line of causality between the acidification of the ocean and a decline in coral skeleton building.

In order to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between acidification and decreased calcification, a team led by Carnegie's Ken Caldeira and including Carnegie's Jacob Silverman (the lead author) and Kenneth Schneider, formerly of Carnegie, compared measurements of the rate of calcification in one segment of Australia's Great Barrier Reef called Bird Island that were taken in between 1975 and 1979 to those made at the neighboring Lizard Island in 2008 and 2009.

The team found that rates of reef calcification were 40 percent lower in 2008 and 2009 than they were during the same season in 1975 and 1976.

However, the team was not able to demonstrate a change in the amount of live coral covering the reef structure over the three decade period.

If the reef in Australia is as sensitive to ocean acidification as was estimated by lead author Jack Silverman of Israel Oceanographic & Limnological Research Ltd in his previous work in Israel, then the increase in ocean acidification would be sufficient to explain the 40 percent decline.

Previous work by the group projected that all of the reefs in the world may be dissolving in a few decades if current carbon dioxide emission trends continue.

"Coral reefs are getting hammered," said Caldeira. "Ocean acidification, global warming, coastal pollution, and overfishing are all damaging coral reefs. Coral reefs have been around for millions of years, but are likely to become a thing of the past unless we start running our economy as if the sea and sky matters to us very soon."

J. Silverman, K. Schneider, D.I. Kline, T. Rivlin, A. Rivlin, S. Hamylton, B. Lazar, J. Erez, K. Caldeira. Community calcification in Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef: A 33 year perspective.Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 2014; DOI:10.1016/j.gca.2014.09.011

This is an underwater photograph of coral and the life the it supports near Lizard Island. Credit: Carnegie Institution for Science President Matthew P. Scott

 Divers home in on thorny threat

Published: 17/09/2014 - GBRMPA

Trained divers tasked with the job of culling the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef have begun targeting a series of individual reefs thought to be spreading the current outbreak.

Divers are culling the coral predator on six reefs off Cairns and Port Douglas in addition to popular tourism sites, after new scientific modelling showed the reefs, which experience periodic local outbreaks, may be seeding downstream areas with the starfish larvae.

The study by the University of Queensland, led by Dr Karlo Hock, also predicts which ‘transport routes’ starfish larvae are likely to take from these ‘super spreader reefs’, based on the ocean’s currents.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s manager of ecosystem resilience Roger Beeden says the findings are influencing the operation of the Australian Government’s control program.

“The research would suggest there are hotspots on the Reef where starfish outbreaks spark a chain reaction that spreads the infestation to vast areas,” he said.

“This is because individual reefs are interconnected, allowing an exchange of coral and fish larvae and other marine creatures.

“It’s helped in large part by some big currents — similar to how the beloved clownfish in ‘Finding Nemo’ was able to travel large distances by riding the Eastern Australian Current.

“These connections are critical to keeping the Reef resilient and driving recovery. However, unfortunately, these same connections can fuel crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks.”

Crown-of-thorns starfish program coordinator Jessica Hoey said that of the northern reefs thought to be spreading the infestation, six are being targeted: Undine, Rudder, Chinaman, Batt, Arlington and Elford reefs.

“The current control program has largely focused its efforts on reefs popular with tourists around Cairns, Port Douglas and the Whitsundays, but with this new information we’ve also turned our attention to include these high-risk reefs,” she said.

“Because the research also shows there are certain routes that the larvae are likely to take, it means we’re in a far better position to know which reefs are prone to receiving and then spreading the starfish.

“This is valuable information we can apply to our surveillance and management measures which includes using Marine Park rangers as ‘spotters’ for the starfish and a dive team run by the marine tourism industry to manually administer a lethal injection which is harmless to other marine life.”

At one of the six reefs, Arlington, divers culled more than 27,000 starfish in a 10-day period in 2013.

The Australian Government’s crown-of-thorns starfish control program has so far protected coral on more than 80 reefs and culled 288,000 of these coral predators.

The venomous invertebrate has been one of the main drivers of coral cover decline on the Reef over the past 30 years.

The crown-of-thorns starfish management program is being delivered in partnership with the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, and the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre.

The research on connectivity networks was conducted in collaboration with Professor Peter Mumby from the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences, Dr Scott Condie from CSIRO and Dr Ken Anthony from the Australian Institute of Marine Science.


Seeking Flood and Storm Snaps

Northern Beaches’ residents are invited to share their historical pictures of flood or storm related events throughout September.

Local Councils (Manly, Pittwater and Warringah) are working closely with the SES to build community awareness around the risks of floods and coastal storms on the Northern Beaches and encourage households and businesses to prepare for such events.

Submissions of these historical flood and storm related pictures will be used to build an exhibition of images that can be displayed during the summer vacation period 2014/15.

In 2012, the Pittwater Council Climate Change Risk Assessment identified floods and coastal erosion would increase as a result of more frequent and intense storm activity combined with sea level rise.

Further information on submission details will be launched to coincide with StormSafe Week (8-15 September 2014) and History Week (6-14 September).

Find out more about how to Be Flood Safe and photo submission information at the Northern Beaches Flood Warning and Information Network website:

We encourage residents to remember the SES number 132 500. The SES has also recently launched a number of information sites:

 Australia celebrates 25 years of ozone protection on World Ozone Day

Media release - 16 September 2014

Australia's leadership in protecting the ozone layer continues this year as we mark the 25th anniversary of our ratification of what is widely agreed to be our most successful international environmental agreement.

Australia was one of the early countries to ratify the Montreal Protocol to phase out ozone depleting substances after it was opened for signature by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 September 1987.

On World Ozone Day today we not only celebrate how 197 nations have worked together to close the hole in the atmosphere's ozone layer, but also recognise the scientists who continue to assess our progress and pave the way for its ongoing recovery.

The Montreal Protocol responded to findings that man-made chemicals were destroying ozone in the stratosphere and there was an ozone hole above Antarctica. It set out a mandatory timetable for for developed and developing countries to phase out all the major ozone depleting substances, including CFCs, halons and less damaging transitional chemicals such as HCFCs.

It has been a great success not only in halting the loss of the vital ozone layer but also in paving the way for its recovery, meaning that the increased and dangerous ultraviolet rays from the sun will return to normal levels later this century.

As one of the 197 countries to ratify the protocol, Australia has worked in partnership with industry, community, and all levels of government to ensure that protection is based on good science and is technically feasible, and that developing countries are supported in their efforts.

Australian scientist Professor David Karoly from the University of Melbourne is the first Australian to be represented on the steering committee for the four yearly assessments of ozone depletion released last week. 

The 2014 assessment - the eighth and latest in a series which reports to the global community - shows the ozone layer is expected to recover to 1980 levels by the middle of this century.  However, we must remain vigilant and continue to phase-out these destructive substances.

Other Australian scientists with prominent roles in this year's assessment include Dr Julie Arblaster and Dr Matt Tully from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Dr Simon Alexander and Dr Andrew Klekociuk from the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Robyn Schofield from the University of Melbourne, Dr Paul Fraser and Mr Paul Krummel from the CSIRO.

For more information on the 2014 Assessment of Ozone Depletion visit HERE

 The future of global agriculture may include new land, fewer harvests

September 17, 2014 - Climate change may expand suitable cropland, particularly in the Northern high latitudes, but tropical regions may becoming decreasingly suitable, according to a study published September 17, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Florian Zabel from Ludwig Maximilians University, Germany and colleagues.

Most of the Earth's accessible agricultural land are already under cultivation. Ecological factors such as climate, soil quality, water supply and topography determine the suitability of land for agriculture. Climate change may impact global agriculture, but some regions may benefit from it. In a new study, researchers focused on the probable impact of climate change on the supply of land suitable for the cultivation of the 16 major food and energy crops worldwide, including staples such as maize, rice, soybeans and wheat. They simulated the impact of climate change on agricultural production over the course of the 21st century and found that two-thirds of all land potentially suitable for agricultural use is already under cultivation.

The results indicate that climate change may expand the supply of cropland in the high latitudes of the Northern hemisphere, including Canada, Russia, China, over the next 100 years. However, in the absence of adaptation measures such as increased irrigation, the simulation projects a significant loss of suitable agricultural land in Mediterranean regions and in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. The land suitable for agricultural would be about 54 million km2 - and of this, 91% is already under cultivation. "Much of the additional area is, however, at best only moderately suited to agricultural use, so the proportion of highly fertile land used for crop production will decrease," says Zabel. Moreover, in the tropical regions of Brazil, Asia and Central Africa, climate change will significantly reduce the chance of obtaining multiple harvests per year.

"In the context of current projections, which predict that the demand for food will double by the year 2050 as the result of population increase, our results are quite alarming. In addition, one must consider the prospect of increased pressure on land resources for the cultivation of forage crops and animal feed owing to rising demand for meat, and the expansion of land use for the production of bioenergy," says Zabel.

Florian Zabel, Birgitta Putzenlechner, Wolfram Mauser. Global Agricultural Land Resources – A High Resolution Suitability Evaluation and Its Perspectives until 2100 under Climate Change Conditions. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (9): e107522 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0107522

 Green Army calling for first round of participants

Media release - 11 September 2014

The Government is putting out the call for the first round of recruits to join the Green Army. 

We're looking for enthusiastic 17-24 year olds to join what will become the largest-ever team of young Australians supporting environmental action across the country. 

Appointed Service Providers are now seeking expressions of interest from young people who want to gain valuable skills, training and experience in environmental and heritage conservation fields. 

The Green Army will give participants the tools they need to help them enter the workforce, improve their career opportunities or further their education and training, while participating in projects that generate real and lasting benefits for the environment. 

Last month, the first round of 196 Green Army projects to roll out across the country were announced. These projects are community-led and will support practical, grassroots environment and conservation activities. 

Participants will have the opportunity to undertake accredited training such as work readiness, conservation and land management, heritage conservation, project and human resource management and heritage trade skills. 

Green Army participants will also receive an allowance and be eligible to gain Certificate I or Certificate II qualifications in areas such as land management, park management, landscaping or horticulture or nationally endorsed skills set to support them in their future career prospects. 

Participation is open to a diverse range of young people, including school leavers, gap year students, graduates and job seekers. Participants must be aged between 17 and 24 years and an Australian citizen or permanent resident. 

Projects will be carried out across urban, regional and remote Australia with participants involved for up to 30 hours a week for a period of 20-26 weeks. 

Project activities may include habitat restoration; protecting national heritage places; revegetating river catchments, coastal foreshores, rainforests and wetlands; constructing boardwalks; working closely with traditional owners and restoring culturally significant sites; pest animal management; upgrading walking tracks; and monitoring threatened species. 

To register your interest contact a Service Provider operating in your state or territory. Details are available online

 IUCN World Parks Congress Sydney 2014

The IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 is a landmark global forum on parks and protected areas held once every 10 years. The Congress will be hosted in Sydney, Australia from 12 – 19 November 2014, on the theme Parks, Planet, People: inspiring solutions. 

The Congress program consists of eight concurrent streams which are Reaching Conservation Goals, Responding to Climate Change, Improving Health and Well-being, Supporting Human Life, Reconciling Development Challenges, Enhancing Diversity & Quality of Governance, Respecting Indigenous & Traditional Knowledge and Culture and Inspiring a New Generation. One stream alone, the Improving Health and Wellbeing: Healthy Parks Healthy People will have over 150 speakers from around the world will contribute and between 3000 to 5000 delegates are expected to attend this very significant Congress. You will benefit from their expertise, practical lessons learnt and plans for positive change. 

Attendees will range from world leaders in environment, health, tourism, education and urban planning fields and more, to young people with a passion and interest in creating a better future. As well as an incredibly informative week-long program there will be opportunities to network at social events, field trips around Sydney and Australia, and opportunities to be involved in groups taking specific action after the Congress to deliver on commitments for positive change. 

For more information or to register go

Coastal Environment Centre

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

More at:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The competition categories are: 

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

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

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

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

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

You can submit photos via the competition