Inbox and Environment News  - May 11 - 17, 2014: Issue 162

Pittwater Online News receives a lot of information from various sources each week. For Your Interest and Bemusement:

 2014 NSW Surf Life Saving Championships - Segment 3 (Surf Boats) - Published on 7 May 2014

The 2014 NSW Surf Life Saving Championships, held at Ocean Beach/Umina Beach from 7-9 March 2014 and 15-16 March 2014.

 A world of disease at your fingertips - 07 May 2014

A few decades ago, medical students used to spend an inordinate amount of time inside UNSW’s Museum of Human Disease. Studying its formalin-preserved specimens was the primary way to learn how to identify the appearances of disease.

Now, thanks to a unique app developed by UNSW’s Department of Pathology and the Museum, students can study the same signs of disease while doing rounds on a hospital ward, while sitting on a train or, should they so choose, from the comfort of their own beds.

Images of Disease is an interactive educational app that catalogues the forms and structures of more than 1000 diseases, ranging from heart attack to hydatid cysts; diphtheria to asthma. The images, which include the microscopic as well as the gross, can be cross-referenced, enlarged, measured and explored in depth. The app is aimed at medical students, specialist trainees in radiology and pathology, and medical practitioners.

“In the old days, when I was a medical student, we used to spend hours and days in the Pathology museum. Some people even slept in there because there was just so much to learn,” says Associate Professor Gary Velan, head of UNSW’s Department of Pathology. “Now people can access these things in their own time, in their own space and learn as they go.

“When students are in a clinical environment, they can look up a particular disease, see what it looks like, its typical clinical features, what it looks like microscopically and perhaps also view a range of other diagnostic imaging investigations [such as an MRI scan or X-ray] that would typically accompany that sort of condition,” says Associate Professor Velan, an award-winning teacher. 

Fifth-year medical student Jacqueline Ho has been using the app this year. “It’s great to be able to study anywhere,” she says. “I haven’t used [the app] right there in front of a patient, but I’ve used it just afterwards, to check the pathology behind what’s happening.”

Images of Disease is only available for IOS-based devices, for now.

“We are hoping that through app sales we will be able to fund the development of the app for android and Windows devices so all students will be able to access it,” says Associate Professor Velan. The app is free for UNSW medical students or costs $17.99 through iTunes. There is also a free “Lite” version which includes a smaller selection of images.

Above: Fifth year medical student, Jacqueline Ho with the technology

 Evolution of the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney 

See how the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney have evolved.

Image available to peruse At Flickr: HERE

Above: Pond and bridge, Botanic Gardens, Sydney / attributed to the photographer William Vosper from the State Library of NSW Collection

 Artist's residency promises rhyme and reflection   7 May 2014

Award-winning Indigenous poet and writer Ali Cobby Eckermann has described her new artistic residency at the University of Sydney as "beyond my wildest dreams".

As the 2014 Artist in Residence (AiR) in the Faculty of Education and Social Work, Cobby Eckermann will participate in a series of readings, talks and workshops. She is relishing the chance to bring the culture of the Yankunytjatjara and Kokatha peoples to students, staff, alumni and friends of the university.

"I think the offer of this residency is a little beyond my wildest dreams, because I still consider myself a grassroots writer," she said.

"I've come from a different university of the desert and trees. It will be interesting to see if I can bring that atmosphere into a walled environment."

Professor Robyn Ewing, Acting ProDean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work, said Cobby Eckermann brings a wealth of knowledge to the faculty.

"The faculty is indeed privileged to be welcoming Ali Cobby Eckermann as our first Indigenous Artist in Residence. We are delighted that Ali will share her understandings and expertise in a range of conversations, seminars and workshops over the next three weeks," she said.

Further highlights of the 2014 AiR program include Cobby Eckermann featuring in an in-conversation event on May 28 about The Stolen Generations with journalist and human rights advocate Jeff McMullen for National Reconciliation Week, and participating in Turning The Tide at the Sydney Writers' Festival with historian Henry Reynolds and author Anita Heiss.

Cobby Eckermann has become an important voice in Indigenous literature since the publication of her first book of poetry, little bit long time, in 2009. Poems such as Intervention Payback and I Tell Ya True give creative voice to the collective experience of Indigenous people.

Cobby Eckermann anticipates her residency will be a chance to educate and inform people about Indigenous stories and experiences. "I think an educated, well-meaning person shouldn't be afraid to have a look at other people's truth," she said.

This is the fourth year of the AiR program at the Faculty of Education and Social Work, which highlights the importance of the arts and creativity in education. Previous Artists-in-Residence were Libby Gleeson, Nadia Wheatley, Ken Searle, and Andrew Upton.

 Lost in migration by Nature - Published on 7 May 2014

Electromagnetic noise is emitted everywhere humans use devices. For decades, people have wondered whether this noise is affecting birds' ability to sense the Earth's magnetic field. Migrating birds use their magnetic-sensing compass to help them fly in the right direction. 

Now, researchers at the University of Oldenburg in Germany have shown that radio waves affect European robins. Only when the robins are put inside huts that screen out the man-made electromagnetic noise can they position themselves in the right direction. 

Read their research paper here.

 Distinct avian influenza viruses found in Antarctic penguins

May 6, 2014 - An international team of researchers has, for the first time, identified an avian influenza virus in a group of Adélie penguins from Antarctica. The virus, found to be unlike any other circulating avian flu, is described in a study published this week in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. 

While other research groups have taken blood samples from penguins before and detected influenza antibodies, no one had detected actual live influenza virus in penguins or other birds in Antarctica previously, says study author and Associate Professor Aeron Hurt, PhD, a senior research scientist at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, Australia.

For the study, Hurt and colleagues collected swabs from the windpipes and posterior openings of 301 Adélie penguins, and blood from 270 of those penguins, from two locations on the Antarctic Peninsula: Admiralty Bay and Rada Covadonga. The samples were collected during January and February 2013.

Using a laboratory technique called real-time reverse transcription-PCR, the researchers found avian influenza virus (AIV) genetic material in eight (2.7%) samples, six from adult penguins and two from chicks. Seven of the samples were from Rada Covadonga. The researchers were able to culture four of these viruses, demonstrating that live infectious virus was present. On further analysis of the samples, the researchers found all viruses were H11N2 influenza viruses that were highly similar to each other.

But when the researchers compared the full genome sequences of four of the collected viruses to all available animal and human influenza virus sequences in public databases, "we found that this virus was unlike anything else detected in the world," says Hurt. "When we drew phylogenetic trees to show the evolutionary relationships of the virus, all of the genes were highly distinct from contemporary AIVs circulating in other continents in either the Northern or Southern Hemisphere."

Four of the gene segments were most closely related to North American avian lineage viruses from the 1960s to 1980s. Two genes showed a distant relationship to a large number of South American AIVs from Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Using a molecular clock to incorporate the evolutionary rate of each AIV gene segment, the researchers estimated that the virus has been evolving for the past 49 to 80 years without anyone knowing about it. Whether this evolution has occurred exclusively in Antarctica is currently unknown, Hurt says.

Additional experiments found that 16% of penguins (43 of 270) had influenza A antibodies in their blood, and that the newly identified virus is likely to be exclusive to birds, as it did not readily infect a group of ferrets used as a test to see if the virus could infect mammals.

While the virus did not cause illness in the penguins, the study shows that "avian influenza viruses can get down to Antarctica and be maintained in penguin populations," Hurt says. "It raises a lot of unanswered questions," including how often AIVs are being introduced into Antarctica, whether it is possible for highly pathogenic AIVs to be transferred there, what animals or ecosystems are maintaining the virus, and whether the viruses are being cryopreserved during the winters.

Aeron C. Hurt, Dhanasekaran Vijaykrishna, Jeffrey Butler, Chantal Baas, Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, M. Carolina Silva-de-la-Fuente, Gonzalo Medina-Vogel, Bjorn Olsen, Anne Kelso, Ian G. Barr, and Daniel González-Acuña. Detection of Evolutionarily Distinct Avian Influenza A Viruses in Antarctica 5:3. mBio, 6 May 2014 DOI:10.1128/mBio.01098-14

Above: Aeron Hurt with a penguin., Credit: Aeron Hurt, WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, Australia.

 Findings of the Independent Review into the Port of Gladstone 

 Media release, 9 May 2014 - The Hon. Greg Hunt MP; Minister for the Environment

Today I am releasing the independent review into the leaking bund wall incidents at the Port of Gladstone.

It is a comprehensive document, with 37 findings and 19 recommendations and I thank the members of the independent review panel for their work.

The relevant findings will be used to inform the assessment of future developments with reclamation areas in coastal environments. 

These findings include: 

Aspects of the design and construction of the bund wall were not consistent with industry best practice. While the overall design of the bund wall and the choice of geotextile were considered appropriate, inadequate restraint of a geotextile liner, 'piping' of water and sediment through paleo channels under the wall and the erosion of mud outside the wall all contributed to changes in turbidity in the vicinity of the bund wall. 

The location of water quality monitoring sites associated with the Western Basin Strategic Dredging and Disposal Project was inadequate to determine whether changes in turbidity were attributable to the performance of the bund wall. 

The Department of the Environment's ability to respond to alleged breaches of conditions was limited by the lack of specificity in some of the previous Labor Government's conditions of approval, inadequate resourcing of the regulatory functions at the time of the incident and fragmented and complex cross-jurisdictional regulations.

It is important to note that the findings relate to events in 2011 and 2012. I am advised these issues affecting the bund wall have been resolved and do not present an ongoing threat to the environment.

I am also advised that the Department has already begun to address a number of the findings, including a significant increase in compliance monitoring staff numbers, a risk based model developed in collaboration with the CSIRO to better manage compliance resources and a review of all compliance and enforcement standard operating procedures to be completed by 30 June 2014. 

I am confident that these findings will help improve environmental practices and regulation going forward. I will respond formally to the Report by 1 July 2014. However, having spoken with members of the panel, my intention is to adopt as many of the recommendations as possible.

Information about the review is available online


Gladstone Ports Corporation has approvals under Australian and Queensland government legislation for the Port of Gladstone Western Basin Strategic Dredging and Disposal Project. The approvals allow for a maximum of 46 million cubic metres of dredge spoil to be removed and disposed of both offshore and within a constructed reclamation area.

The Report, and it's 37 findings and 19 recommendations can be found at above link.

An Example:

Recommendation 8. High-quality background environmental data should be recognised as critical environmental infrastructure and its acquisition and maintenance be a high priority for the Australian and Queensland governments.

 Dredge Report: Mining industry understates impact of dredging and dumping on Great Barrier Reef Wed 7 May 2014

A new report has revealed that the impact of dredging and dumping in the Great Barrier Reef is much worse than the mining industry or state-owned ports have indicated, raising concerns over plans to dredge and dump more than 100 million tonnes in the Reef’s waters.

The report’s key findings include:

The World Heritage Area is under threat from unprecedented industrial development including seabed dredging,

Dredging eradicates seagrass and marine animals living in the dredge area,

Dredging creates plumes that cover vast distances often underestimated by industry,

There are plans to conduct a further 140 million tonnes of capital dredging in the Reef’s waters through port expansions at Gladstone, Mackay, Abbot Point, Townsville and Cairns, and

There are significant credibility issues with claims about limited dredging impacts at Hay Point.

Felicity Wishart, the Great Barrier Reef campaign director for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said no longer could the mining industry and the state government claim that dredging doesn’t cause the Reef damage.

Claims that 8.3 million cubic metres of seabed dredged at Hay Point Port and dumped in the Great Barrier Reef’s waters in 2006 led to no significant or long term environmental impacts are not credible,” Ms Wishart said.

“The monitoring ceased six months after dredging stopped when corals were still covered in sediment and suffering with lesions.

“In the monitoring report, corals with dead patches were grouped together with coral that had no damage at all, obscuring the fact that these corals were damaged.

“Control sites were potentially compromised by dredge spoil. The inadequacy of monitoring at this site is deeply troubling and with so much more dredging and dumping planned for the Reef’s waters.

“The state government is both the owner and the overseer of these dredging projects, which means that it is essentially checking its own homework and giving itself top marks.

“This report highlights that the industrialisation of the Reef’s coast through expanded ports will continue to cause environmental damage to the Reef if it goes ahead,” said Ms Wishart.

UQ Coral scientist Dr Selina Ward said the many flaws exposed in the Hay Point monitoring concerned her.

"There are issues with the design of the monitoring program. The sites that were monitored as ‘no impact sites’ were well within the range of the sediment plume so they were not 'no impact sites' after all. Consequently, the corals at these ‘no impact sites’ showed similar damage to those at the ‘impact sites’. Hence, the developers claim there was no impact of the dredging,” Dr Ward said.

“We know some corals had up to 60% coverage by sediment which would have been damaging for them.

“How did they cope into the future? We don’t know because the monitoring stopped six months after the dredging.

“There are many methods for measuring coral health that weren’t used in the monitoring and as a scientist I question the results,” she said.

Download the report (3.49mb) HERE

 Adani's Carmichael mega coal mine Approved this Week by QLD Government

Adani's Carmichael mega coal mine has been approved this week by the Queensland Government. 

Although the QLD. Government’s Coordinator-General's has listed 190 conditions, and the mine is still to receive federal approval, there have been many outspoken critics of the approval, citing the Indian-owned Adani  has a history of complaints against it for breaches of environmental laws in its home country.

The project will also require a 189-kilometre rail line, water supply infrastructure, coal handling and processing plant and will produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal every year for ninety years. 

"Coal in the Galilee Basin must stay in the ground if we are to deliver a safe climate and a sustainable economy to our grandchildren, rather than just make Campbell Newman's mining mates richer," Australian Greens' mining spokesperson, Senator Larissa Waters, said this week, 

" The Newman Government can't mitigate the climate disaster this project would be, nor can there be any confidence those conditions will be enforced when 220 workers from the Environment Department have already been slashed by the Newman Government….. The masses of coal produced would be exported through the Great Barrier Reef, treating the Reef like a shipping super highway for the big miners.”

Greenpeace Australia released the following on Friday afternoon:

Top 10 reasons why Carmichael mega mine is a REALLY bad idea - By Greenpeace Australia - May 9, 2014

Most people haven’t heard of the Indian Adani Group or its plan to a new coal mine that would outsize any other in Australia.

If current plans go ahead, Australians may become familiar with the words ‘Adani’ and ‘Carmichael’ for all the wrong reasons.

Comprised of six open-cut pits and five underground mines, the mine will require a rail corridor through farmland and would produce so much coal to be shipped abroad that it’s driving the mega-port expansion in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

 Trout spawning season has started

Fishers are reminded that the annual trout spawning season commences in the Snowy Mountains from 1 May 2014.

Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Inland Senior Fisheries Manager, Cameron Westaway, said the annual trout spawning season fishing rules apply to the Thredbo River and its tributaries and the Eucumbene River and its tributaries (upstream of the Lake Eucumbene dam wall and including Providence Portal).

Restrictions are in place from Thursday 1st May to provide protection for early spawning trout while also providing fishers with the opportunity to catch a trophy sized trout,” Mr Westaway said.

“The Eucumbene River in particular has provided excellent fishing for large brown trout over the past two years.

“A minimum size limit of 50cm, daily bag limit of 1 and possession limit of 2 trout will apply to these waters from 1 May to the end of the Queens Birthday long weekend on Monday 9 June.

“Anglers can use 1 attended rod and line with up to 2 hooks with artificial flies or lures and up to 3 treble hooks attached to any lure is permitted. Fishing gear rigged for bait fishing is prohibited.”

The annual closure on fishing in trout streams throughout NSW will then be in place from Tuesday 10 June 2014 allowing brown and rainbow trout to breed uninterrupted until the trout fishing season re-opens on the October long weekend on Saturday 4 October 2014.

Trout dams remain open to fishing throughout the year.

“The minimum size limit of 25cm, daily bag limit of 2 and possession limit of 4 trout will again apply to the Thredbo and Eucumbene Rivers when the season opens in October,” Mr Westaway said.

“While 150,000 rainbow trout have been stocked into Lake Eucumbene and 50,000 rainbow trout into Lake Jindabyne each year for more than a decade, it is important to provide increased protection for brown and rainbow trout during their annual spawning runs.”

Fisheries officers will be patrolling the Thredbo and Eucumbene Rivers to ensure that fishers are abiding by these rules.

All fishers are reminded to respect other users, use facilities provided, dispose of any rubbish or refuse responsibly and not interfere with other fishers by parking or camping too close to the water (where permitted) when fishing these rivers.

Detailed information on the fishing rules can be found online or in the NSW Freshwater Fishing Guide which is available from DPI fisheries offices and most bait and tackle stores

 Sustainable catch: Blue-eye Trevalla by CSIRO - Published on 6 May 2014

Blue-eye Trevalla is an iconic - and delicious - Australian seafood species. We're studying blue-eye biology, early life-history and movement to better predict its species distribution in Australian waters. This will ensure a sustainable catch for Australia's fishing industry and the continued availability of blue-eye for consumers' plates.

 As carbon dioxide levels rise, some crop nutrients will fall, researchers find

May 7, 2014 - Researchers have some bad news for future farmers and eaters: As carbon dioxide levels rise this century, some grains and legumes will become significantly less nutritious than they are today.

The new findings are reported in the journal Nature. Eight institutions, from Australia, Israel, Japan and the United States, contributed to the analysis.

The researchers looked at multiple varieties of wheat, rice, field peas, soybeans, maize and sorghum grown in fields with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels like those expected in the middle of this century. (Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are currently approaching 400 parts per million, and are expected to rise to 550 ppm by 2050.)

The teams simulated high CO2 levels in open-air fields using a system called Free Air Concentration Enrichment (FACE), which pumps out, monitors and adjusts ground-level atmospheric CO2 to simulate future conditions. In this study, all other growing conditions (sunlight, soil, water, temperature) were the same for plants grown at high-CO2 and those used as controls.

The experiments revealed that the nutritional quality of a number of the world's most important crop plants dropped in response to elevated CO2.

The study contributed "more than tenfold more data regarding both the zinc and iron content of the edible portions of crops grown under FACE conditions" than available from previous studies, the team wrote.

"When we take all of the FACE experiments we've got around the world, we see that an awful lot of our key crops have lower concentrations of zinc and iron in them (at high CO2)," said University of Illinois plant biology and Institute for Genomic Biology professor Andrew Leakey, an author on the study. "And zinc and iron deficiency is a big global health problem already for at least 2 billion people."

Zinc and iron went down significantly in wheat, rice, field peas and soybeans. Wheat and rice also saw notable declines in protein content at higher CO2.

"Across a diverse set of environments in a number of countries, we see this decrease in quality," Leakey said.

Nutrients in sorghum and maize remained relatively stable at higher CO2 levels because these crops use a type of photosynthesis, called C4, which already concentrates carbon dioxide in their leaves, Leakey said.

"C4 is sort of a fuel-injected photosynthesis that maize and sorghum and millet have," he said. "Our previous work here at Illinois has shown that their photosynthesis rates are not stimulated by being at elevated CO2. They already have high CO2 inside their leaves."

More research is needed to determine how crops grown in developing regions of the world will respond to higher atmospheric CO2, Leakey said.

"It's important that we start to do these experiments in tropical climates with tropical soils, because that's just a terrible gap in our knowledge, given that that's where food security is already the biggest issue," he said.

Samuel S. Myers, Antonella Zanobetti, Itai Kloog, Peter Huybers, Andrew D. B. Leakey, Arnold J. Bloom, Eli Carlisle, Lee H. Dietterich, Glenn Fitzgerald, Toshihiro Hasegawa, N. Michele Holbrook, Randall L. Nelson, Michael J. Ottman, Victor Raboy, Hidemitsu Sakai, Karla A. Sartor, Joel Schwartz, Saman Seneweera, Michael Tausz, Yasuhiro Usui. Increasing CO2 threatens human nutrition.Nature, 2014; DOI:10.1038/nature13179

Free Air Concentration Enrichment (FACE) systems, like this one at the University of Illinois, allow researchers to simulate future atmospheric conditions to determine their effects on plants. Credit: Don Hamerman

 Ban cigarette filters to save environment, suggest researchers

May 6, 2014 – Ban  cigarette filters. Start a deposit-return scheme for used butts. Hold manufacturers responsible for clean-ups. Place warnings on packets about the impact of simply flicking one's used cigarettes away. These are among the policy measures that Thomas Novotny of the San Diego State University in the US and Elli Slaughter advocate to curb the environmental harm done through the large-scale littering of cigarette butts, packaging and matches. The suggestions are part of a review article in Springer's journal Current Environmental Health Reports.

Cigarette butts and other tobacco product waste are the items that are most commonly picked up during urban and beach clean-ups worldwide. An estimated 4.5 trillion of the annual 6 trillion cigarettes sold worldwide do not end up in a dustbin or ashtray, but are simply flicked away along a roadside or on a pavement.

The ban on indoor smoking may have exacerbated this.

Tobacco waste products contain the same toxins, nicotine, pesticides and carcinogens found in cigarettes and cigars, and can contaminate the environment and water sources. Studies show that the chemicals within cigarettes, such as arsenic, nicotine, lead and ethyl phenol, could leach into salt and fresh water and be acutely toxic to aquatic micro-organisms and fish.

It is not only the cigarette ingredients that harm the environment, but also the materials they are made of. Plastic cigarette filters are practically non-biodegradable and can leach chemicals for up to ten years. In the US alone an estimated 49.8 million kilograms of filters are discarded annually. This excludes the weight of remnant butt tobacco, discarded packages, lighters and matches, and other tobacco products such as cigars and smokeless tobacco.

The researchers call filtered cigarettes a "farce" in terms of consumer safety, with a recent National Cancer Institute review showing that these are not healthier or safer than non-filtered ones. Novotny and Slaughter therefore propose a ban on filtered cigarettes.

Jonathan Samet from the University of Southern California and the editor of the article recently advised the California State Legislature that "…it is evident that filtered cigarettes have had little impact on the risks of smoking over the last half century."

Because existing anti-littering laws have not changed smokers' littering habits, Novotny and Slaughter ask for new environmental interventions and partnerships between tobacco control and environmental groups. They propose litigation to hold the tobacco industry legally responsible for clean-up and nuisance costs associated with their products, advocating the use of labels on cigarette packages about the toxicity of discarded butts, and a deposit-return scheme similar to that used for glass and metal beverage containers. Other options include requesting the industry to pay an advanced recycling fee or to take back all discarded tobacco waste products.

"Tobacco waste products are ubiquitous, environmentally hazardous and a significant community nuisance," says Novotny. "With two-thirds of all smoked cigarettes, numbering in the trillions globally, being discarded into the environment each year, it is critical to consider the potential toxicity and remediation of these waste products."

Thomas E. Novotny, Elli Slaughter. Tobacco Product Waste: An Environmental Approach to Reduce Tobacco Consumption.Current Environmental Health Reports, 2014; DOI:10.1007/s40572-014-0016-x

 Dolphin whistle warnings: Remotely monitoring acoustical changes in dolphin whistles may be powerful new tool for conservation

May 6, 2014 – A team of researchers in Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, Britain and the United States has demonstrated that remotely monitoring the acoustical structures of dolphin vocalizations can effectively detect "evolutionary significant units" of the mammal - distinct populations that may be tracked for prioritizing and planning conservation efforts. This finding, presented at the 167th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, to be held May 5-9, 2014, in Providence, Rhode Island, suggests that placing remote acoustical monitoring platforms on ocean buoys and the like may be a viable, low-cost and automated way of monitoring populations of dolphins and rapidly alerting ecologists to the threats that confront them.

"Acoustical changes can be used for constant and continuous monitoring of population belonging to endangered species," said Elena Papale of the University of Torino, who led the research. "We found that [by remotely monitoring dolphin whistles], it is possible to distinguish between evolutionary significant units."

The discovery emerged from a large, multinational collaboration that pulled together data from five research groups based in Italy, Portugal, Spain, Britain and France. Those groups were already monitoring dolphins for a number of existing scientific studies. Other groups in the United States collaborated by providing sound analysis equipment. Shepherding all these groups of people and the flood of data they produced was a challenge, Papale said, but the greater challenge was working out how to distinguish the flood of whistles from one group of dolphins from another.

Animal vocalizations have acoustic characteristics that reflect an organism's genes, its adaptation to ecological conditions and the interactions between their genes and the environment. The differences between groups of dolphins within the same species may be slight and hard to detect however, because morphological features, ecological conditions and socio-behavioral aspects of the creatures influence the structure of whistle. The problem is also a dynamic one, since vocalizations may vary in short time scale.

So at the start of the research, it was not clear whether acoustical analyses alone would be able to tease apart the common threads for given groups of dolphins and differentiate between them.

Papale and her colleagues compared 123 sightings of three dolphin species from the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea (Stenella coeruleoalba, Delphinus delphis and Tursiops truncatus). They analyzed whistles from 49 hours of audio recordings made at the same time as the sightings and tested whether they could definitively identify dolphin populations by analyzing the acoustical parameters of the whistles.

This allowed them to correctly assign more that 82 percent of data to the correct dolphin population, based solely on the acoustic structure, a proof of principle that the acoustic structure of whistles can be used to monitor recent or rapid changes in the local population biology.

"More work is still needed to develop an automatic system for population recognition," Papale said. She added that other research groups are focusing on the development of software but for the moment only for species-specific identification, not intra-specific recognition.

The above story is based on materials provided by Acoustical Society of America (ASA)

Black Swan Bodysurfing at Dee Why Beach – by Australian Museum Published on 5 May 2014

A Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) body surfing at Dee Why Beach, Sydney, Australia, in April 2014. Video taken by Dr Penny Berents, Senior Fellow at the Australian Museum.

More info: HERE


Environment Events

Escarpment Walk - Sunday May 18, 2014

Come and join us for a walk through one of Pittwater’s spectacular reserves. This walk takes you through Pittwater’s largest continuous piece of bushland which contains many beautiful plant communities and threatened fauna. After the summer rains it is an outstanding time to experience our bushlandcome alive with wildlife and flowering plants.

The walk is 1.5km one-way and is a little steep in parts so although we will be taking it at a gentle pace a reasonable level of fitness is required. Bring a pair of walking shoes, snacks, water and sense of adventure!

When: Sunday 18 May, 9am to 12pm. Where: Meet point to be provided upon booking. Cost: Free! Bookings Essential!  Online -  In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen. Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception - Option 1)

Community Stream Watch Program

The Coastal Environment Centre is offering an exciting opportunity to learn more about our local freshwater ecosystems and take part in a citizen science project observing and collecting data from our local waterways. 

Pittwater Council and Streamwatch will be holding an information  session and training day on Sunday 22 June at the Coastal Environment Centre. 

As a part of a Streamwatch group you will learn more about freshwater ecosystems, help to collect data from local waterways and network with other groups from across Sydney. 

Key highlights: 

 Learn a host of new skills

 Learn more about our local freshwater creeks and rivers

 Meet and network with likeminded individuals across Sydney

Who should attend? Anyone with an interest in the local freshwater waterways. 

To register or for further information please phone 1300 000 232 or visit

Guringai Festival - Indigenous Walk   Sunday June 15, 2014

Join us for a guided bushwalk discovering cultural sites including rock engravings in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. This tour led by staff from the Coastal Environment Centre and an Indigenous guide offers a great opportunity to learn more about this amazing area.

The walk will give you information on the local flora and their uses as bush tucker and medicines. Look for native animals and their tracks as we explore. This event is suitable for the whole family! 

When: Sunday 15 June, 10am to 12pm. Where: Meet point to be provided upon booking. Bookings Essential!  Online -  In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen. Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception - Option 1)

Aboriginal Heritage Talk - Thursday 12 June, 7pm to 8:30pm

Come and learn more about our amazing local Aboriginal heritage. As part of the Guringai Festival Pittwater Council will be hosting a guest speakerfrom the Aboriginal Heritage Office presenting an engaging talk about Pittwater’s Aboriginal heritage.  This is a great talk for the whole family. 

When: Thursday 12 June, 7pm to 8:30pm. Where: Location to be provided upon booking.  Cost: Free! Bookings Essential! Online - In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen. Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception - Option 1)

Friends of Mona Vale Cemetery Gardening Group

Pittwater Council is seeking volunteers interested in joining our recently established

Cemetery gardening group, meeting the first and third Tuesday of every month, from 8.30am to 11.30am (weather permitting). 

Presently Council staff do not have the resources to tend individual graves and as the years go by relatives who may have tended the grave in the past grow old themselves and are unable to visit. The graves can become quite untidy and weed infested. 

Our volunteers carry out gentle weeding on these graves in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Please register your interest and availability by contacting Cemetery Administration on 9970 1341 or email


Clean Chimneys Mean Cleaner Air - 07 May 2014

With the cooler weather approaching, Pittwater residents with wood heaters are being urged to check their chimneys for excessive smoke.

Pittwater Mayor, Jacqui Townsend said smoky chimneys could be a real problem in Pittwater during the winter months, when woodsmoke haze is trapped over built up areas.

“Through our Woodsmoke Reduction Program we’re looking to gather information from our residents about how they use their wood heaters via our online survey.

Cr Townsend said that participants in the online survey would be in the running to win a chimney clean, just one of the ways to reduce woodsmoke.

“We will also be providing information and education to help reduce woodsmoke pollution and help clear the air.

“Unfortunately woodsmoke pollution can harm the environment and your health and can be upsetting for neighbours,” added Cr Townsend.

“As part of our Woodsmoke Reduction Program we are also offering cash incentives up to $1,000 to reduce wood smoke pollution and help Pittwater residents breathe easy.

Environmental Compliance Manager, Jeff Lofts encouraged all residents with wood heaters to examine the air being emitted from their chimney.

“Ideally, chimneys should not vent any smoke, just a heat haze. Some older models may vent a thin wispy smoke.

“However, if your chimney has obvious smoke this means it’s not operating as efficiently as it could be, regardless of its age. Residents can follow some simple steps to reduce woodsmoke, including:

Don’t let your heater smoulder overnight

Burn only dry, aged hardwood in your wood heater

Store your wood under cover in a dry, ventilated area

Never burn rubbish, driftwood or painted or treated wood

When lighting a cold heater, use plenty of dry kindling to establish a good fire quickly

Use several small logs rather than one large log and stack them loosely in your heater, so air can circulate around them. Don’t cram the firebox full

Keep the flame lively and bright

Check your chimney regularly to see how well your fire is burning. If there is smoke coming from the chimney, increase the air supply to your fire

Have the chimney cleaned every year to prevent creosote build-up

Purchase heaters that have a compliance plate showing it meets the Australian Standard (AS/NZS 4013:1999),” said Mr Lofts.

Find out more about reducing woodsmoke or participate in the online survey

 Helping us breathe easier - 5 May 2014

Asthma affects two million people in Australia and causes more than 400 deaths each year.

On World Asthma Day, philanthropist Maurice Renshaw is determined to stem the tide, with a recent donation of $315,000 towards asthma research at the University of Sydney's Faculty of Pharmacy.

Mr Renshaw's donation has a personal connection, as his sister passed away from asthma complications when she was quite young. His gift has funded a postgraduate scholarship in respiratory disease.

The research team, led by Professor Alaina Ammit, is looking at the possibility of harnessing proteins in the body to act as anti-inflammatories and eradicate the symptoms of asthma.

If successful, this treatment could improve the use of corticosteroids, which can cause harmful side-effects, especially in children. Furthermore, 10 per cent of asthmatics are corticosteroid-resistant.

"The work being done by Professor Ammit and her team can make a very meaningful impact on the health and lives of asthmatics," said Mr Renshaw.

"Universities have been critically important in developing fundamental science upon which new products can be eventually developed. It is vitally important that universities are adequately supported to continue fundamental research.

Professor Ammit, who is internationally renowned for her work on the mechanistic basis of inflammation in asthma and airway remodelling, said Mr Renshaw's generosity would have far-reaching benefits.

"It allows a talented team of academics, researchers and students to investigate asthma in great depth and potentially find a way to alleviate the chronic and inflammatory symptoms of this disease," Professor Ammit said.

"Our research will help to save lives, ease breathing, and allow those affected to return to normal everyday activities."

Professor Iqbal Ramzan, Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy, concurs that the faculty is very grateful for Maurice's support of pharmaceutical research.

"Not only will it provide hope for a cure for individuals with chronic respiratory conditions and asthma, through his gift of a PhD scholarship, Maurice is ensuring that we continue to educate the bright minds and train future research leaders who will provide solutions to future healthcare challenges," Professor Ramzan said.

The current scholarship holder is Pavan Prabhala, a medical science graduate of the University, who is working with Professor Ammit's team.

About Maurice Renshaw: Maurice Renshaw is a former vice president of Pfizer Inc, and an alumnus of the University of Sydney's Faculty of Pharmacy, from which he graduated in 1972. He now serves as president of the Faculty of Pharmacy Foundation, which is focused on attracting philanthropic funds to invest in projects that help to solve life threatening health conditions and discover new medicines.

 3D printing to treat sleep apnoea - By CSIRO - Published on 6 May 2014

A new 3D printed device is set to end the suffering for thousands of sleep apnoea patients. Using a 3D scanner to map a patient's mouth, CSIRO researchers and Australian dental company, Oventus, can now print a mouthpiece which prevents dangerous pauses in breath during sleep.

More information on our blog:

 Researchers discover 'bad' cholesterol contributes to cancer spread in the body - 7 May 2014

In a world-first, University of Sydney researchers have discovered one of the main reasons behind why cancer spreads throughout the body - the help of 'bad' cholesterol.

Published in top international journal, Cell Reports, the research found 'bad' cholesterol (Low Density Lipoprotein, or LDL) regulates the machinery that controls cell migration, a major finding in the search to explain why cancer spreads throughout the body.

Paper senior author, Associate Professor Thomas Grewal from the University's Faculty of Pharmacy, said the research had important implications for cancer research.

"One of the things that makes cancer so difficult to treat is the fact that it can spread around the body," he said.

"Most of the cells in our bodies stick to neighbouring cells through the help of 'Velcro-like' molecules on their surface known as integrins. Unfortunately, integrins also help cancer cells that have broken away from a cancerous tumour to take root elsewhere in the body.

"Our study identified that 'bad' (LDL) cholesterol controls the trafficking of tiny vessels which also contain these integrins, and this has huge effects on the ability of cancer cells to move and spread throughout the body.

"Our research found that having high amounts of 'bad' cholesterol seem to help the integrins in cancer cells to move and spread.

"In contrast, we found that high levels of 'good' (HDL) cholesterol keeps integrins inside cells and may therefore protect against cancer cell spread."

Researchers have extensively examined how integrins can move to the inside of cells. Most interestingly, out of several novel therapeutic opportunities, cholesterol, one of the major lipids in our body, is needed to keep integrins on the cell surface of cancer cells.

However, up to now it was unclear where this cholesterol was coming from and how one could manipulate this to treat cancer.

"Our findings contribute to the debate that cholesterol levels may be associated with cancer incidence," Associate Professor Grewal said.

"In fact, malignant cancer cells are known to take up increased amounts of 'bad' LDL cholesterol.

"Our findings advance the theory that knowing how to manipulate and lower 'bad' cholesterol could significantly help to reduce the ability of cancer cells to spread."

Associate Professor Grewal has been collaborating with Professor Carlos Enrich from the University of Barcelona (Faculty of Medicine) in Spain for 15 years on the link between cancer and cholesterol.

About cancer: In cancer, normal cells turn into cancer cells and can grow uncontrolled and form lumps called tumours. If left untreated, cancer cells can break away from the tumour and are carried to normal tissues nearby or other parts of the body. The ability of cancer cells to spread is life threatening because they can start to grow into new tumours.

Tumours from cancers that have spread are called secondary cancers or metastases. Cancer metastasis is one of the major issues that makes cancer so difficult and researchers have long recognised that a better understanding of cancer cell spread can provide opportunities to improve cancer treatment.

Most of the cells in our bodies stick to their neighbours through the help of 'Velcro-like' molecules on their surface known as integrins. But integrins also help cancer cells that have broken away from a tumour to settle elsewhere in the body.

Knowing how to block integrins to stop cancer cells from moving can help to reduce cancer cell spread. Indeed, several pharmacological inhibitors for integrins have been developed, but these inhibitors still have limitations for clinical use.

Reducing the number of integrins at the cell surface stops cancer cell from migrating and invading other tissues and is one of the exciting therapeutic strategies investigated worldwide.

About the study: The Cell Biology publication is the culmination of five years of research and is a collaboration with researchers at the University of Sydney, the Garvan Institute, and researchers in Brisbane, Hamburg and Barcelona, as well as current PhD students in Professor Grewal's team.

Anger motivates volunteers as much as sympathy

May 6, 2014 - Anger can be just as effective at motivating people to volunteer as sympathy. This is one of the findings of research by Professor Robert Bringle and his students Ashley Hedgepath and Elizabeth Wall from Appalachian State University who present their findings at the British Psychological Society annual conference on 7 May 2014, at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham.

Professor Bringle explained: "Although there are many reasons why individuals help, empathy is prominent. Empathy occurs when an individual has a similar response to a suffering person and this is usually sadness. Empathic sadness motivates a person to help in order to alleviate the other person's suffering and to alleviate one's own discomfort."

"This research focused on circumstances when empathy elicits anger. Whereas anger is usually seen as evoking an aggressive response, we wanted to anaylse empathic anger as a basis for helping. This seems most likely to occur when the attribution is made about the unfairness of the circumstances that caused the victim's suffering."

Two questionnaire studies focused on the nature of those reporting empathic anger using a new measure, the "Revised Empathic Anger" scale. In Study 1 (involving 132 participants) found that those scoring high on empathic anger were publically spirited and more likely to support community projects and organisations as a way to affect change rather than charitable volunteering. Study 2 (involving 152 participants) found those reporting high empathic anger were not aggressive people, but were concerned and altruistic individuals who rejected group-based discrimination and inequality among groups.

Professor Bringle added: "This research adds a new dimension to motives for volunteering. Empathic anger is probably a more extreme or intense motive than others that have been described or studied in the previous research on volunteering and prosocial behavior."

"By developing our understanding of empathic anger we can better appreciate why some volunteers are motivated to assist certain social causes. The new scale provides opportunities for future research to study the nature of empathic anger, its development, and it journey across time."

The above story is based on materials provided by British Psychological Society (BPS)

 Plants in action (1983) - Published on 7 May 2014

CSIRO - We tend to think of plants as being essentially stationary incapable of movement other than that generated by the wind. But all plants do move as they grow and respond to aspects of their environment.

This film looks at a variety of plants in action. Some movements, like that of Mimosa, the sensitive plant, or that of the Venus flytrap are quite conspicuous.

Much plant activity, however, takes place too slowly for direct human perception it can be revealed only by time-lapse cinematography.

 Enabling Australia's Digital Future: Cyber Security Threats and Implications - by CSIRO - 5 May 2014

We've released a report exploring cyber threats of the future for the energy, health and government sectors. Australia's hyper-connected and technology dependent future means we will become more reliant on digital services for basic needs such as healthcare, energy and government services.

Embracing these exciting digital opportunities will lead to greater levels of social and economic prosperity, but also leaves us vulnerable to cyber security threats.

Our latest report, called Enabling Australia's Digital Future: Cyber Security Trends and Implications, looks at how a far greater number of future online attackers - anyone from disgruntled employees to organised cybercriminals and nation-states - could cause widespread disruption and financial losses by hacking into Australia's digital services and infrastructure, including public services like patient health records and taxation data.

Focusing on three key areas - health, energy and government, this report explores digital trends, future cyber  threats and implications for Australia.

The report contains a series of three potential cyber‐security scenarios for the future, covering the following sectors:

Energy: By 2025, the electricity grid is highly automated and use of 'smart' digital meters is widespread. A disgruntled employee, operating alone, is able to tunnel into an unprotected part of the system and shut down the grid during a heatwave, causing major power outages across the country, lost earnings in the billions of dollars, and several suspected fatalities.

Healthcare: Digital services are now used widely throughout Australian healthcare, but security and compliance processes have struggled to keep up. By 2023, widespread fraud from both individual practitioners and cybercrime rings is costing the system up to $16bn in fraudulent claims – equivalent to 10 per cent of Australia's total healthcare spending. Some criminals are even hacking into sensitive patient records and charging hospitals 'ransoms' of up to millions of dollars to get control back.

Government: When 'hacktivists' – hackers motivated by ideological or political values – breach a set of classified Government records, an unknown third party uses the same method to steal large volumes of citizen data. The Government reacts by taking every impacted department offline – resulting in widespread public outcry at the disruption caused to trade and public services, in addition to fears about identify theft and exposure of individuals’ personal data.

Enabling Australia’s Digital Future: Cyber security trends and implications is available to download on our website. (2.61MB)HERE

 Connecting as a whole - one step process - 8 May 2014

University of Sydney civil engineers worked on the Beijing Bird's Nest image copyright Dr Hao Zhang

A design process that makes steel structures safer, more reliable,less expensive and gives Australian businesses the competitive edge is being developed by University of Sydney civil engineering researchers.

Structural reliability expert Dr Hao Zhang says the team will complete a four-year analysis of the steel structures used in the Australian construction industry.

"In the project we shifted the focus of design from the individual components and its connection strengths to the overall structural behaviour and strength of the entire system," says Dr Zhang, Senior Lecturer in the School of Civil Engineering and co-investigator on the project.

"The component-based design approach can overestimate the load carrying capacity of structural systems, causing unsafe designs.

"The core of this project has been a rigorous statistical assessment of the system strength which considers structural redundancy, consequences of failure and statistical variations in loading and variables affecting the frame strength."

The advanced structural analysis process developed by the University's team that combines examination,evaluation and capacity checking into a single step has highlighted failure modes within the system currently used.

"The one-step process provides the opportunity to consider the consequences of failure during the design phase of the process. This is vital when designing any building including magnificent structures such as Beijing's Bird Nest or National Grand Theatre, or the Water Cube whose engineering team included Australian experts," says Dr Zhang who worked as a structural engineer for the Atlanta based company Uzun & Case prior to joining the university.

Professor Kim Rasmussen,head of the School of Civil Engineering, emphasises the importance of changing the model of steel structural design.

"What is important is the strength and weight of materials used to design reliable steel frames," says Professor Rasmussen.

"However, the veracity of the structural components and the parts that connect them as a whole are the hidden key."

He suggests the researchers'one-step process will give Australian businesses the competitive edge on the international market.

"The outcomes of this project will help Australian structural design firms and engineers to be at the forefront of design methodology. It also can assist Australian companies competing in South East Asia, Middle East and European markets.

"We envisage that over time our one-step methodology will be adopted throughout the world," predicts Professor Rasmussen.

The research was conducted by a team at University of Sydney including Professor Kim Rasmussen, Dr Hao Zhang and five PhD students. Leading international researcher Professor Bruce Ellingwood from the Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, USA, also collaborated on the project.

 Sustainable catch: Blue-eye Trevalla by CSIRO - Published on 6 May 2014

Blue-eye Trevalla is an iconic - and delicious - Australian seafood species. We're studying blue-eye biology, early life-history and movement to better predict its species distribution in Australian waters. This will ensure a sustainable catch for Australia's fishing industry and the continued availability of blue-eye for consumers' plates.

 Playing Outside Could Make Kids More Spiritual May 2014   

Children who spend significant time outdoors could have a stronger sense of self-fulfillment and purpose than those who don’t, according to new Michigan State University research linking children’s experiences in nature with how they define spirituality.

In the study, published recently in the Journal of the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, children who played outside five to 10 hours per week said they felt a spiritual connection with the earth, and felt their role is to protect it.

“These values are incredibly important to human development and well-being,” said Gretel Van Wieren, assistant professor of religious studies. “We were surprised by the results. Before we did the study, we asked, ‘Is it just a myth that children have this deep connection with nature?’ But we found it to be true in pretty profound ways.”

For example, the children in her study expressed feelings of peacefulness and some believed that a higher power had created the natural world around them. They also reported feeling awestruck and humbled by nature’s power, such as storms, while also feeling happy and a sense of belonging in the world.

The study also measured children’s aesthetic values, finding that those who engage in free play outside on a regular basis have a deep appreciation for beauty (i.e., balance, symmetry and color), order and wonder (i.e., curiosity, imagination and creativity). For example: lush green bushes, pattern-like blue spots in water and fascination with bees’ nests.

Van Wieren and co-researcher Stephen Kellert, from Yale University, used a mix of research methods, including in-depth interviews, drawings, diaries and observation, as well as conversations with parents. Seven of the 10 children in the study – who were 7 to 8 years old – were from families with a Christian background.

The researchers also found parents of the children who expressed the highest affinity toward nature and the strongest spirituality spent significant time outdoors during their childhoods. And many of the parents believed such experiences shaped their adult lives and spirituality.

So what is it about nature?

It offers a diverse display of colors, sights and sounds; uncertainty; multisensory qualities; and above all, aliveness, Van Wieren said. Nature is usually in a state of flux, which fosters problem-solving opportunities that build self-confidence.

But we could be in trouble if kids continue their technology habits, she said.

“This is the first generation that’s significantly plugged in to a different extent and so what does this mean?” Van Wieren said. “Modern life has created a distance between humans and nature that now we’re realizing isn’t good in a whole host of ways. So it’s a scary question: How will this affect our children and how are we going to respond?”

See more at HERE

 A virtual Universe - Published on 7 May 2014

Scientists at MIT have traced 13 billion years of galaxy evolution, from shortly after the Big Bang to the present day. Their simulation, named Illustris, captures both the massive scale of the Universe and the intriguing variety of galaxies -- something previous modelers have struggled to do. It produces a Universe that looks remarkably similar to what we see through our telescopes, giving us greater confidence in our understanding of the Universe, from the laws of physics to our theories about galaxy formation. 

Read the research paper: here

 Conquest of Space at Galleries UNSW - 07 May 2014

The first Australian exhibition to explore the historical connections between science fiction and contemporary art, Conquest of Space, opens at Galleries UNSW, College of Fine Arts (COFA) this month, May 22.

Featuring more than 40 Australian artworks, the exhibition builds on three major themes of science fiction and contemporary art: the sublime, the uncanny, and the exploration of time and space.

“Science fiction and contemporary art share more than a heritage – they are profoundly connected, and not just in the way they express related ideas, but in the manner in which they do so,” said exhibition curator and UNSW academic Dr Andrew Frost.

“Artists are drawn to science fiction because it speaks about our time and place in the world in a way no other genre does,” said Dr Frost.

“Science fiction is essentially a fantasy of Western culture – it allows us to explore dramatised versions of the future, nature and exploration and encourages us to question our relationship with the world.”

Australian works by John Glover, Eugene von Guérard, James Gleeson and Jeffery Smart, on loan from the Art Gallery of NSW, complement the exhibition by illustrating the historical roots of contemporary science fiction images throughout the colonialist and modernist periods.

“Most people imagine spaceships, ray guns and robots when they think about science fiction but the genre has a long history that stretches back to the 18th century and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – I wanted to include images from that period in the exhibition,” said Dr Frost.

The Conquest of Space at Galleries UNSW is a part of a wider program incorporating a Science Fiction Symposium at COFA on June 14 and a film program, Conquest of Space Future Screen at the Art Gallery of NSW from May 10 – July 5.

Dr Frost’s documentary The Conquest of Space: Science Fiction and Contemporary Art, profiling many of the artists featured in the exhibition, will be screened later this year on ABC TV.

ARTISTS FEATURED IN THE CONQUEST OF SPACE:  Eugene von Guerard, John Glover, Nicholas Chevalier, Shoufay Derz, Giles Alexander, Megan Jenkinson, John A Douglas, Kate Shaw, Tony Lloyd, Joel Rea, Rick Amor, James Gleeson, Laith McGregor, Shalini Jardin, Madeleine Kelly, Lionel Bawden, Phil James, Sam Leach, Hayden Fowler, Biljana Jancic, Sandra Selig, Michaela Gleave, Robert Klippel, Tristan Jalleh, Sam Smith, nova Milne, Jeffrey Smart, Callum Morton and Adam Norton.

What: The Conquest of Space: Science Fiction and Contemporary Art 

When: May 22 – July 5

Where: Galleries UNSW, COFA, Cnr Oxford St & Greens Rd, Paddington

Hours: Tues – Sat, 10am – 5pm

John A Douglas, Body Fluid – Ascension (detail), 2012. C-Type photograph on aluminium, 100 × 100cm. Courtesy the artist and Chalk Horse Gallery, Sydney

 Professor blazes trail with political science honour - 6 May 2014

Professor Pippa Norris is the 2014 winner of the Karl Deutsch Award, a prestigious prize awarded once every three years by the International Political Science Association (IPSA).

Professor Norris has described the award as "a tremendous and unexpected honour."

Professor Norris' selection by the IPSA marks a little piece of history for the Karl Deutsch Award: she is its first female recipient.

The Karl Deutsch Award is a peak international prize in comparative politics and political science. The honour, named after an eminent Czech-born but US-based political scientist who died in 1992, recognizes a prominent scholar engaged in cross-disciplinary research in political science.

A political scientist and public speaker, Professor Norris' research compares elections and public opinion, political communications, and gender politics. She will receive her honour after a lecture at IPSA World Congress in Montreal, Canada, in July. She will also present at the congress, under a topic echoing the title of her new book, Why Electoral Integrity Matters.

Professor Norris directs the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP), a joint research project based at the University of Sydney and Harvard University. The EIP recently released its annual report, comparing the risks of flawed and failed elections and how countries meet global standards.

Professor Norris is also a recipient of the ARC Laureate Award and the 2011 Johan Skytte award. She has previously served as Director of the Democratic Governance Group in United Nations Development Programme, NY and as an expert consultant to many international organizations such as the World Bank, Council of Europe and OSCE.

 Tool for uncovering bot-controlled Twitter accounts: Research designed to counter misinformation campaigns

May 6, 2014 - Complex networks researchers at Indiana University have developed a tool that helps anyone determine whether a Twitter account is operated by a human or an automated software application known as a social bot. The new analysis tool stems from research at the IU Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing funded by the U.S. Department of Defense to counter technology-based misinformation and deception campaigns.

BotOrNot analyzes over 1,000 features from a user's friendship network, their Twitter content and temporal information, all in real time. It then calculates the likelihood that the account may or may not be a bot. The National Science Foundation and the U.S. military are funding the research after recognizing that increased information flow - blogs, social networking sites, media-sharing technology - along with an accelerated proliferation of mobile technology is changing the way communication and possibly misinformation campaigns are conducted.

As network science is applied to the task of uncovering deception, it leverages the structure of social and information diffusion networks, along with linguistic cues, temporal patterns and sentiment data mined from content spreading through social media. Each of these feature classes is analyzed with BotOrNot.

"We have applied a statistical learning framework to analyze Twitter data, but the 'secret sauce' is in the set of more than one thousand predictive features able to discriminate between human users and social bots, based on content and timing of their tweets, and the structure of their networks," said Alessandro Flammini, an associate professor of informatics and principal investigator on the project. "The demo that we've made available illustrates some of these features and how they contribute to the overall 'bot or not' score of a Twitter account."

Through use of these features and examples of Twitter bots provided by Texas A&M University professor James Caverlee's infolab, the researchers are able to train statistical models to discriminate between social bots and humans; according to Flammini, the system is quite accurate. Using an evaluation measure called AUROC, BotOrNot is scoring 0.95 with 1.0 being perfect accuracy.

"Part of the motivation of our research is that we don't really know how bad the problem is in quantitative terms," said Fil Menczer, the informatics and computer science professor who directs IU's Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research, where the new work is being conducted as part of the information diffusion research project called Truthy. "Are there thousands of social bots? Millions? We know there are lots of bots out there, and many are totally benign. But we also found examples of nasty bots used to mislead, exploit and manipulate discourse with rumors, spam, malware, misinformation, political astroturf and slander."

Flammini and Menczer said it's their belief that these kinds of social bots could be dangerous for democracy, cause panic during an emergency, affect the stock market, facilitate cybercrime and hinder advancement of public policy. The goal is to support human efforts to counter misinformation with truthful information.

The use of social bots has gained widespread attention in mass media. Menczer has been interviews by The New York Times on the use of social bots to sway elections and was sought out to consult on the topic by writers of the network television series "The Good Wife."

The team received just over $2 million in 2012 for a proposal called "Detecting Early Signature of Persuasion in Information Cascades" and last month presented results about BotOrNot and other aspects of the project at a Department of Defense meeting in Arlington, Va.

Link to BotOrNot:

 Redescription of the oldest-known dolphin skull sheds light on their origins and evolution

May 6, 2014 - Dolphins are the most diverse family of living marine mammals and include species such as the bottlenose dolphin and the killer whale. However, their early evolution and fossil record has been steeped in mystery due to lack of good specimens. A new paper published in latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology re-describes the oldest species of dolphin with a new name: Eodelphis kabatensis. Although the partial skull was previously described in the 1970s the scientific community largely overlooked it. The new re-description has important implications for the evolutionary history of dolphins. The skull of Eodelphis kabatensis was originally collected from a small tributary of the Oshirarika River in Hakkaido, Japan from an outcrop of the Mashike Formation. Researchers working on the specimen have narrowed its age to the late Miocene (13.0-8.5 million years ago), making it the earliest true dolphin species described. "The early evolution of true dolphins is still covered in mystery. Eodelphis kabatensis informs us about the morphology of early dolphins," said lead author Mizuki Murakami.

Eodelphis is an important link in the evolutionary history of dolphins. Prior to this study, there was inconsistency between the fossil record of the dolphins and molecular-based studies. The oldest true dolphin fossils found were less than 6 million years old, while molecular studies suggested they originated and started to diversity between 9-12 million years ago. "Eodelphis kabatensis, being discovered from sediments that were deposited 8-13 million years ago, has largely resolved this discrepancy and provides the best glimpse yet of what the skull of the first dolphins may have looked like," said Jonathan Geisler, a marine mammal paleontologist at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine.

In addition to its importance as the earliest true dolphin, this new study also incorporates the most comprehensive analysis of the relationships within the Delphinoidea, the group that encompasses toothed whales. By including Eodelphis in the analysis, the authors were able to get a much clearer picture of the evolution of the toothed whales. Furthermore, the presence of Eodelphis in the Pacific Ocean during the late Miocene has implications for the geographic history of dolphins. While more specimens need to be discovered, this study suggests that dolphins might have had their origins in the Pacific.

Mizuki Murakami, Chieko Shimada, Yoshinori Hikida, Yuhji Soeda, Hiromichi Hirano. Eodelphis kabatensis, a new name for the oldest true dolphin Stenella kabatensis Horikawa, 1977 (Cetacea, Odontoceti, Delphinidae), from the upper Miocene of Japan, and the phylogeny and paleobiogeography of Delphinoidea. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 2014; 34 (3): 491 DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2013.816720

This is the skull of the holotype of Eodelphis in lateral view. Credit: Image courtesy Mizuki Murakami

 Sydney Living Museums Meroogal Women’s Art Prize 2014

We are excited to announce the return of the Meroogal Women’s Art Prize in 2014.

Artists are invited to create works in any medium that respond to Meroogal and its sense of place. The Meroogal Women’s Art Prize is a regional, competition and exhibition. It is open to a work in any medium made by a woman 18yrs or over whose principal residence is in NSW. 

Selected entries to this year’s Arts Prize will be exhibited in the house, garden and grounds of historic Meroogal in Nowra and go in the running to win up to $6000 and Bundanon Trust artist-in-residency scholarship! ENTRIES CLOSE AT 5PM ON FRIDAY 8 AUGUST 2014.

See more at:

Health papers published this week:

Mechanisms that link brain alertness, increased heart rate discovered

May 6, 2014 - George Washington University (GW) researcher David Mendelowitz, Ph.D., was recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience for his research on how heart rate increases in response to alertness in the brain. Specifically, Mendelowitz looked at the interactions between neurons that fire upon increased attention and anxiety and neurons that control heart rate to discover the "why," "how," and "where to next" behind this phenomenon. "This study examines how changes in alertness and focus increase your heart rate," said Mendelowitz, vice chair and professor of pharmacology and physiology at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "If you need to focus on a new task at hand, or suddenly need to become more alert, your heart rate increases. We sought to understand the mechanisms of how that happens."

While the association between vigilance and increased heart rate is long accepted, the neurobiological link had not yet been identified. In this study, Mendelowitz found that locus coeruleus (LC) noradrenergic neurons - neurons critical in generating alertness - directly influence brainstem parasympathetic cardiac vagal neurons (CVNs) - neurons responsible for controlling heart rate. LC noradrenergic neurons were shown to inhibit the brainstem CVNs that generate parasympathetic activity to the heart. The receptors activated within this pathway may be targets for new drug therapies to promote slower heart rates during heightened states.

"Our results have important implications for how we may treat certain conditions in the future, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic anxiety, or even stress," said Mendelowitz. "Understanding how these events alter the cardiovascular system gives us clues on how we may target these pathways in the future."

X. Wang, R. A. Pinol, P. Byrne, D. Mendelowitz. Optogenetic Stimulation of Locus Ceruleus Neurons Augments Inhibitory Transmission to Parasympathetic Cardiac Vagal Neurons via Activation of Brainstem  1 and  1 Receptors. Journal of Neuroscience, 2014; 34 (18): 6182 DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5093-13.2014

Repeated preschool wheeze may set stage for long-term damage in lung function

May 7, 2014 - Children who wheeze are at risk of developing damage that will affect their lung function by the age of 6 years, according to researchers at CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital and the University of Montreal. These appear to be persistent, even if asthma symptoms seem to disappear at least temporarily by school age in several cases. Children with recurrent symptoms that are severe enough to warrant a visit to the emergency department are particularly at risk of seeing their lung function affected. This may persist in adulthood and into their forties, even if they have gone through a period of asthma remission during their childhood or adolescence. Preschool wheezing could be a risk factor for to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The findings were published in The Lancet by researchers and pediatricians Drs. Francine M. Ducharme and Sze Man Tse following a review of the outcomes of clinical studies undertaken on preschoolers over close to 25 years. Wheezing is a symptom characterized by a whistling sound when breathing and it affects 20% to 25% of Canadian children under 6 years of age. Under-sixes visit the emergency three times more than all other age groups, resulting in at least one yearly emergency department visit for 2%-4% of them, a sizable number of whom will subsequently be admitted to hospital.

"Repeated wheezing is most often caused by asthma. However, the diagnosis is challenging because before 6 years of age, children are too young to go through the standard confirmatory lung-function test - spirometry," says Dr. Ducharme. "Yet the period before six years of age is clearly a period of increased vulnerability and is probably the best time to intervene - and possibly - prevent lasting damage."

Damage resulting from lack of long-term therapy 

These data track the natural evolution of the asthma, as today's ill adults were the preschoolers 20 to 40 years ago: at that time, few effective treatments were available. "Our study shows that the most effective treatment of young children is the long-term use of low doses of inhaled corticosteroids. However, it is alarming to see that few young children are currently receiving over the long term, this treatment that has been known to be effective. So even today, these children are at risk of long-term damage to their lung," says Dr. Ducharme.

The importance of diagnosis: in many cases, asthmatic children are wrongly diagnosed as having bronchitis or pneumonia. "This is why it's essential to correctly diagnose the causes of childhood wheezing," Dre Sze Man Tse says. "In other cases, due to a lack of information, doctors hesitate to prescribe long-term treatment, and parents hesitate to administer it. If these children were treated daily with inhaled corticosteroids, they would avoid repeated ER visits and their quality of life would be improved, as would their whole family's." It is not yet known if the treatment prevents long-term damage.

A public health priority 

Genetic factors, colds, exposure to tobacco and very early childhood rapid weight gain are known risk factors for repeated wheezing. "Early intervention to reduce medium and long-term lung damage resulting from preschool wheezing should be a public health priority," says Dre Ducharme. "Knowing that 48% of preschool children will wheeze at least once before the age of 6 years, and that a large proportion of them are improperly diagnosed or do not receive the inhaled corticosteroid whose effectiveness is well beyond any scientific doubt, we see in turn the great, needless expense for the health system and the risk of life-long, irreversible damage to these children."

Long-term preventative effect 

CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital is one of few Canadian specialized paediatric centres that follows these patients with pulmonary function tests specially adapted for children 3 years and up, which enables their medication to be more carefully adjusted. "We can see these children's pulmonary function improve with treatment," says Dr. Ducharme. "We are currently studying whether the early and sustained administration of inhaled corticosteroids during childhood, the reduction of viral infections, and the control of various environmental factors before and after birth could have an effect on the occurrence, frequency or persistence of asthma until adulthood. These studies will also look at the financial impact of these interventions on health care costs."

Francine M Ducharme, Sze M Tse, Bhupendrasinh Chauhan. Diagnosis, management, and prognosis of preschool wheeze. The Lancet, 2014; 383 (9928): 1593 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60615-2

Ability to isolate, grow breast tissue stem cells could speed cancer research

May 7, 2014 - By carefully controlling the levels of two proteins, researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered how to keep mammary stem cells - those that can form breast tissue - alive and functioning in the lab. The new ability to propagate mammary stem cells is allowing them to study both breast development and the formation of breast cancers.

"What we've shown is that we can take these cells out of a mouse and study them and regulate them in the laboratory by providing them with a specific factor," says Peter C. Gray, a staff scientist in Salk's Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology, who collaborated on the new work with Benjamin T. Spike, a senior research associate in the laboratory of Salk Professor Geoffrey M. Wahl.

The results of the study were published in the April 8th, 2014 issue of the journal Stem Cell Reports.

Mammary stem cells can give rise to new breast cells during fetal development, adolescence or lactation and may also play a role in breast cancer, so they represent a highly promising avenue for breast cancer research. But isolating the stem cells and maintaining them in the lab to study has been difficult.

"There was a lot of prior work demonstrating that mammary-specific stem cells exist, but it was virtually impossible to isolate them in numbers from an adult," says Spike. "But we previously found we could turn to early development, when the stem cells are present in higher proportions."

When the researchers used fetal breast tissue rather than adult tissue from mice, they were able to pinpoint which cells were stem cells but the cells would rapidly change when grown in a dish. A defining property of all stem cells is that when they divide into two new cells, they can form both stem cells and differentiated cells (cells on their way to becoming a specific type of tissue).

Spike and Gray grew the mammary stem cells in culture dishes and stained them so that new stem cells appeared a different color from differentiated mammary cells. Then, they began testing the effects of two proteins - known as CRIPTO and GRP78 - that play significant roles in both stem cell biology and embryonic development.

"In normal conditions, we first see the cells as yellow - the combination of red and green within a single cell - then later see cells that are either red or green, showing that our cells had the capacity to make two different types of mature cells," says Spike. "But then when we do the experiment again and start changing protein levels, the ratio of these cells becomes very different."

The researchers found that when they blocked CRIPTO, the cells mostly formed differentiated cells instead of new stem cells. Over time, this stem cell population shrank since they weren't repopulating themselves. When they instead boosted levels of CRIPTO, the stem cell colony grew as new stem cells were produced more often than differentiated cells.

In studies in mice, the scientists also found that CRIPTO helped the animals form new mammary tissues, which led the team to hypothesize that CRIPTO may be produced by nearby cells in the fat to spur the growth of breast tissue.

In a previous study, Gray's group had discovered that the protein GRP78 binds CRIPTO on the surface of cells and regulates CRIPTO function. This prompted the scientists to test whether GRP78 had an effect on the mammary stem cells. As they suspected, when cells lacked GRP78 on their surfaces, they didn't respond to CRIPTO.

Both CRIPTO and GRP78 have been implicated in cancers, including breast cancer and lung cancers. Scientists think high levels of either protein could encourage tumor growth using similar pathways that they use to spur breast tissue growth. With the new ability to isolate and sustain mammary stem cells, Spike and Gray hope they can uncover details on exactly what cellular programs CRIPTO and GRP78 activate. Understanding this in stem cells could further understanding on how these proteins are involved in tumor growth.

Additionally the researchers think that targeting CRIPTO and GRP78 - which are ideal drug targets since they are present outside of cells - could halt or slow cancer growth. "It's looking more and more like what's required to target cancer is to have many therapeutics hitting different pathways," says Gray. "We think targeting CRIPTO and GRP78 could be a unique way of supplementing existing treatment modalities by targeting stem cell-like cells in cancer."

Benjamin T. Spike, Jonathan A. Kelber, Evan Booker, Madhuri Kalathur, Rose Rodewald, Julia Lipianskaya, Justin La, Marielle He, Tracy Wright, Richard Klemke, Geoffrey M. Wahl, Peter C. Gray. CRIPTO/GRP78 Signaling Maintains Fetal and Adult Mammary Stem Cells Ex Vivo. Stem Cell Reports, 2014; 2 (4): 427 DOI:10.1016/j.stemcr.2014.02.010

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.