inbox and environment news: Issue 536

May 1 - 7, 2022: Issue 536

Spotted Gums Are Blooming - Autumnul Food For Our Wildlife

Autum is the time our local spotted gums and swamp mahogany's flower - providing food for birds, possums and all other kinds of wildlife. These spotted gums in the trees here have been hosting a cacophony of birds during the day and been visited by the resident possums at night.

Grants Awarded To Local Schools For Sustainability Efforts

At its Meeting this week Council awarded six local schools up to $2,000 each for sustainability programs in the 2022 Eco Schools Grant Program.

Council has committed $10,000 to the program to fund initiatives partly or fully in the fields of bush regeneration, carbon reduction, waste reduction, water reuse and reduction as well as sustainability education.

Mayor Michael Regan congratulated all the winners for their innovative programs.

“We always receive amazing applications under this program and it’s great to see so many schools wanting to get involved,” Mayor Regan said. 

“Well done to all the deserving recipients, we look forward to seeing your projects come to fruition.

“Good habits begin early, and we know kids really care about reducing waste and looking after their environment.

“This program helps local schools involve more students in sustainability programs and put into practice some of their great ideas of how to implement them in their own schools.”

This year’s recipients include:
  • The Beach School, Allambie Heights  $2,000
  • NBSC Freshwater Campus  $1,550
  • Balgowlah Heights Public School  $1,927
  • Maria Regina Primary School, Avalon  $2,000
  • Belrose Public School  $1,098
  • Killarney Heights High School  $1,425
Details of these really cool projects and their names are:

The Beach School: ''The Rain Garden Edible Food Forest''
The Rain Garden Edible Food Forest will feature vegetable growing gardens in water-conserving wicking beds, fruit trees, 180,000L of rainwater collected from 150m2 roof-space situated onsite alongside the garden, and other beneficial plant species for soil remediation and to provide habitat. The primary goal is to address Water Reuse and Reduction. This will be achieved by designing and implementing the project, as well as ongoing maintenance, tours and outdoor lessons with students and the community. Rainwater collected from the swim centre’s roof will enable us to effectively reuse stormwater and reduce the need to source from mains water. In a future of uncertain rainfall and increasing water restrictions using water efficiently to grow food is never more important. This project offers both students and the local community an example of how we can effectively use and conserve the use of rainwater in growing food in urban environments.

NBSC Freshwater Campus: ''The Ultimate Freshwater Campus Recycling Project''
I am extremely passionate about recycling and reducing waste. My goal is to increase the number of recycling bins in my beloved school as there are currently very few located around the school grounds. The recycling bins that are present are not easily accessible to students resulting in recyclable items ending up in the general waste bins. This grant will be used to invest in approximately 130 small recycling bins for hard and soft plastics as well and distribute them around the entire school including classrooms, corridors and eating areas. Currently, all waste streams are taken to one large bin, which is taken to landfill, so we will need a second large bin for all bottles and cans, and a third for crushable plastics. Students will be responsible for  taking smaller bins to the larger commercial bin on a selected day once a week.

Balgowlah Heights Public School:'' Waste less, Recycle more!''
A school-wide commitment to reducing and being accountable for waste collection and reduction with the involvement of school leaders, teachers, students, the P & C, the school canteen and parent volunteers. We would like to fund more recycling and compost bins to cover both campuses (East and West) on school grounds - we currently do not have enough bins.

Maria Regina Primary School Avalon: ''Learning Through Eco Gardens''
We wish to transform our garden area into an eco garden that students use for Science lessons to learn about sustainability through a 'garden to plate' program and see it working in action. Through this project children in every single grade will learn how to create a working ecosystem of living things - plants and animals. The eco garden will also include a composting system with worm farms that will educate the children in reducing waste while enhancing sustainability in the environment.

Belrose Public School: ''Waste Education''
We have set up a recycling system that, in theory, should work well. We have 5 bins at each ‘waste station’ across the school. Unfortunately, we are sorting through all bins weekly to remove contaminated items, separate R&E and move waste intended for landfill to recycling bins. This process is time consuming and not sustainable. Education is key in having all students and teachers participate correctly. Not all teachers have the knowledge, time or passion. We could outsource however to keep costs down we will do this internally. There is no point in continuing our waste campaign without continual education to both students and teachers. Funds would cover a casual 6 times per year so our key sustainability teacher can provide education to teachers and students on the importance of waste management. Education sessions are to take place each term plus 2 waste audits to be run each year.

Killarney Heights High School: ''Bush Tucker Garden''
We would love funding to establish a bush tucker garden on the school grounds. The Aboriginal Heritage Office and the Aboriginal Educational Consultative Group support this project to improve the school’s connection with country, work in an educational capacity with students and source plants specific to the Killarney heights region to foster bush regeneration of our local area. Aboriginal students will help design and establish the bush tucker garden, as will our year 8 gardening group- a targeted group that has run throughout 2021 for students who need support with social skills. These are facilitated by Killarney’s Aboriginal staff, our student support officer and KHHS gardener. The bush tucker garden will be used to strengthen connections between students and staff by its ongoing development in weekly groups across the term. It will further celebrate Aboriginal culture and history by providing information on how and why certain plants can be used.

the spring onions - cherry tomatoes 'tub' at our place
Cherry tomato vines - easy to grow, practically indestrucatble, and the perfect size for little mouths and great in salads

Barrenjoey Headland Amenities Concept Plan

The Barrenjoey Headland is a 34-hectare area located within Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and is a popular destination with approximately 200,000 visitors each year. The lack of public amenities in the headland impacts the visitor experience and has led to environmental and operational issues particularly the prevalence of litter and waste. In 2019, National Parks and Wildlife Service installed transportable toilets as a temporary solution while planning for a permanent amenity was underway.

They have now secured funding to progress the provision of permanent toilets and water refill station at Barrenjoey. Aileen Sage Architects have been engaged to design suitable amenities which considered heritage constraints, visual impacts, environmental impact, visitor and access requirements, construction constraints and services provision.

This project is being delivered as part of the largest visitor infrastructure program in national park history.

Release of Barrenjoey Headland amenities concept plans
National Parks and Wildlife Service are pleased to release concept designs for the new amenity building at Barrenjoey. This will provide much-needed facilities for visitors, including those with personal/health requirements, young families and others.

National Parks and Wildlife Service worked with Aileen Sage Architects to design the amenities that considered heritage constraints, visual impacts, environmental impact, visitor and access requirements, construction constraints, and services provision.

The proposed amenities include the following features:
  • the building will be set into the landscape, concealed by the landform and native heath
  • screened walls to the front of the building will allow for natural light and ventilation
  • timber screens will be left to grey with alternating painted battens to reference the colours of the surrounding natural landscape and heritage buildings
  • unisex cubicles will be provided, including baby change facilities and a water refill station
  • water supply and sewer infrastructure to service these amenities are already in place.
The concept designs for the new amenity building are available for download.

Your feedback
National Parks and Wildlife Service  welcome your feedback on these concepts by 2 May 2022.

If you have any questions or comments on the concept designs, please complete the online form here.
Approvals are expected to take approximately 3 months.
Construction is scheduled to commence in Spring 2022, subject to approvals.

Image: Architects' Drawing of placement/style of new amenities. Image: NPWS

Local Wildlife Rescuers And Carers State That Ongoing Heavy Rains Are Tough For Us But Can Be Tougher For Our Wildlife:

  • Birds and possums can be washed out of trees, or the tree comes down, nests can disintegrate or hollows fill with water
  • Ground dwelling animals can be flooded out of their burrows or hiding places and they need to seek higher ground
  • They are at risk crossing roads as people can't see them and sudden braking causes accidents
  • The food may disappear - insects, seeds and pollens are washed away, nectar is diluted and animals can be starving
  • They are vulnerable in open areas to predators, including our pets
  • They can't dry out and may get hypothermia or pneumonia
  • Animals may seek shelter in your home or garage. 

You can help by:

  • Keeping your pets indoors
  • Assessing for wounds or parasites
  • Putting out towels or shelters like boxes to provide a place to hide
  • Drive to conditions and call a rescue group if you see an animal hit (or do a pouch check or get to a vet if you can stop)
  • If you are concerned take a photo and talk to a rescue group or wildlife carer

There are 2 rescue groups in the Northern Beaches:

Sydney Wildlife: 9413 4300

WIRES: 1300 094 737

Please be patient as there could be a few enquiries regarding the wildlife. 

Generally Sydney Wildlife do not recommend offering food but it may help in some cases. Please ensure you know what they generally eat and any offerings will not make them sick. You can read more on feeding wildlife here 

Information courtesy Ed Laginestra, Sydney Wildlife volunteer. Photo: Warriewood Wetlands Wallaby by Kevin Murray, March 2022.

Mackellar Candidate Forum 2022:  Managing The Big Issues Facing Our Community

Tuesday 3 May  7.00 - 8.30pm (Doors open 6.30pm)
At: Dee Why RSL Auditorium
Tickets: FREE - please register to attend:
Co-hosted by Northern Beaches Climate Action Network (NBCAN) and Voices of Mackellar
With the Federal election on 21 May now is the perfect time to get to know the candidates and hear what they stand for. You will also have the opportunity to ask a question on any issue you care about.
All known candidates have been invited. 
Candidates confirmed as at 20 April are:
  • Christopher BALL - United Australia Party
  • Paula GOODMAN - Australian Labor Party
  • Ethan HRNJAK - The Greens
  • Dr. Sophie SCAMPS - Independent
  • Barry STEELE - TNL (formerly The New Liberals)
*Jason Falinski MP has declined to attend.

6.30pm: Doors open
7.00pm: Event commences
8.30pm: Event concludes
**Please note that the event will commence promptly at 7 pm**
Need more information?   Email: 
Covid-19 safety:  We are committed to providing a safe environment. If you are feeling unwell, please do not attend the event and contact if you are unable to use your ticket.

Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment Forum: May 2022 - Speaker - Prof. Dennis Foley On The Aboriginal Heritage Of The Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment

Visit: to find out more and book a space at this forum

Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA) Autumn 2022 Newsletter

Our PNHA Newsletter 91 is now on our website. We've been busy! 
Below: Pastel Flower Pseuderanthemum variabile flowers can be white, pink or mauve, about as big as a violet. It is a tiny herb of shady rainforest or wet eucalyptus forest, north of Bega in NSW. It spreads by seed and rhizomes. More: in: 
This one is in Spotted Gum forest at Newport.

Photo: PNHA

Cassia Flowering Now: Dispose Of This Weed To Stop The Spread

Cassia (Senna pendula). Also known as Senna and Arsenic Bush. Originating in South American, Cassia is a perennial sprawling multi-stemmed shrub or tree up to 5m tall. 

This weed replaces native vegetation and establishes in a wide range of native plant communities, including coastal heath and scrubland, hind dunes and riparian corridors. The large seed pods are eaten by birds and other animals. You may be seeing this bright burst of yellow everywhere as it is currently flowering - please pull out and get rid of if you have in your garden.

Aviaries + Possum Release Sites Needed

Pittwater Online News has interviewed Lynette Millett OAM (WIRES Northern Beaches Branch) needs more bird cages of all sizes for keeping the current huge amount of baby wildlife in care safe or 'homed' while they are healed/allowed to grow bigger to the point where they may be released back into their own home. 

If you have an aviary or large bird cage you are getting rid of or don't need anymore, please email via the link provided above. There is also a pressing need for release sites for brushtail possums - a species that is very territorial and where release into a site already lived in by one possum can result in serious problems and injury. 

If you have a decent backyard and can help out, Lyn and husband Dave can supply you with a simple drey for a nest and food for their first weeks of adjustment.

Sydney Wildlife Rescue: Helpers Needed

Bushcare In Pittwater 

For further information or to confirm the meeting details for below groups, please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

Angophora Reserve             3rd Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Dunes                        1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Golf Course              2nd Wednesday                 3 - 5:30pm 
Careel Creek                         4th Saturday                      8:30 - 11:30am 
Toongari Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon (8 - 11am in summer) 
Bangalley Headland            2nd Sunday                         9 to 12noon 

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

North Bilgola Beach              3rd Monday                        9 - 12noon 
Algona Reserve                     1st Saturday                       9 - 12noon 
Plateau Park                          1st Friday                            8:30 - 11:30am 

Church Point     
Browns Bay Reserve             1st Tuesday                        9 - 12noon 
McCarrs Creek Reserve       Contact Bushcare Officer     To be confirmed 

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

Kundibah Reserve                   4th Sunday                       8:30 - 11:30am 

Mona Vale     
Mona Vale Beach Basin          1st Saturday                    8 - 11am 
Mona Vale Dunes                     2nd Saturday +3rd Thursday     8:30 - 11:30am 

Bungan Beach                          4th Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
Crescent Reserve                    3rd Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
North Newport Beach              4th Saturday                    8:30 - 11:30am 
Porter Reserve                          2nd Saturday                  8 - 11am 

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

Palm Beach     
North Palm Beach Dunes      3rd Saturday                    9 - 12noon 

Scotland Island     
Catherine Park                          2nd Sunday                     10 - 12:30pm 
Elizabeth Park                           1st Saturday                      9 - 12noon 
Pathilda Reserve                      3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon 

Warriewood Wetlands             1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

Western Foreshores     
Coopers Point, Elvina Bay      2nd Sunday                        10 - 1pm 
Rocky Point, Elvina Bay           1st Monday                          9 - 12noon

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Darkinjung Plans For 600 Homes On Central Coast's Lake Munmorah Now On Exhibition: Closes May 24

April 22, 2022
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment has announced a proposal to build up to 600 homes and help Aboriginal people take greater control of their land on the Central Coast, is now on exhibition for community feedback.

The Department’s Executive Director of Local and Regional Planning Malcolm McDonald said the community could help shape Lake Munmorah’s growth, by sharing its views on the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council project.

“Showcasing this proposal to the public represents a significant milestone in Darkinjung’s journey, to use its land to reap economic rewards for local Aboriginal people and deliver much-needed new homes,” Mr McDonald said.

“The 55-hectare site lays the foundations for a new park and up to 600 homes at various price points, close to existing services and jobs, not just for the Traditional Owners but everyone on the Central Coast.

“The proposal balances development with environmental conservation by protecting 21-hectares of untouchable bushland, home to wildlife such as the masked owl.”

Mr McDonald said progressing the rezoning proposal marked another step toward reconciliation.

“This proposal is a gamechanger for Lake Munmorah, boosting housing supply, promoting cultural heritage, strengthening self-determination, and locals are encouraged to have their say,” he said.

“We will continue to work with Darkinjung to identify how its land can best be planned, managed, and developed.

“This is one of three Darkinjung projects currently being assessed under a streamlined planning system, to support the local Aboriginal community. It follows the 2020 approval for an industrial hub in Wallarah, with the potential to create 1,200 new jobs.”

Darkinjung is the largest non-government landowner on the Central Coast and is one of 120 Local Aboriginal Land Councils in NSW.

Following the application of avoidance and mitigation measures, the BAM assessment identified the following biodiversity credits required to offset the impacts of the Project:
• 1407 credits for swift parrot,36 credits for wallum froglet, and 857 credits for black-eyed Susan.
• 577 credits for PCT 1636 Scribbly Gum – Red Bloodwood – Angophora inopina heathy woodland on lowlands of the Central Coast.
• 225 credits for PCT 1638 Smooth- barked Apple – Red Bloodwood – Brown Stringybark – Hairpin Banksia heathy open forest of coastal lowlands.
• 48 credits for PCT 1724 Broad- leaved paperbark – Swamp Oak – Saw Sedge swamp forest on coastal lowlands of the Central Coast and Lower North Coast.

Swift Parrot Conservation status in NSW: Endangered - Commonwealth status: Critically Endangered
On the mainland they occur in areas where eucalypts are flowering profusely or where there are abundant lerp (from sap-sucking bugs) infestations. Favoured feed trees include winter flowering species such as Swamp Mahogany Eucalyptus robusta, Spotted Gum Corymbia maculata, Red Bloodwood C. gummifera, Forest Red Gum E. tereticornis, Mugga Ironbark E. sideroxylon, and White Box E. albens. Commonly used lerp infested trees include Inland Grey Box E. microcarpa, Grey Box E. moluccana, Blackbutt E. pilularis, and Yellow Box E. melliodora.

Swift Parrot Photo: Gunjan Pandey

For more information and to provide your feedback on the plan by midday 24 May 2022, visit the Lake Munmorah/Crangan Bay, Rezoning land at Pacific Highway and Kanangra Drive page at:

Have Your Say On Key Environmental Legislation Reviews

Have your say on the Draft Contaminated Land Management Regulation 2022 and the Draft Dangerous Goods (Road and Rail Transport) Regulation 2022 and the Resource recovery framework.

These key pieces of legislation established to protect the environment and community have been reviewed by the EPA and we are now seeking feedback from councils, industry and the community.

Draft Contaminated Land Management Regulation 2022
The draft Contaminated Land Management Regulation will improve administrative and enforcement aspects of contaminated land management including operation of the NSW Site Auditor Scheme and penalty amounts for contaminated land management offences.

We are particularly seeking feedback from contaminated land management professionals, including site auditors and councils. We are welcoming feedback until 2 May 2022.

Draft Dangerous Goods (Road and Rail Transport) Regulation 2022
The dangerous goods transport laws help protect people, property and the environment from the risks of accidents involving dangerous goods.

Proposed changes in the Draft Dangerous Goods (Road and Rail Transport) Regulation 2022 improve safety, including the fitting of equipment to prevent rollover accidents involving dangerous goods vehicles, improved maintenance requirements, prohibited routes rules and changes that better align the Regulation with national dangerous goods Model Laws.

We are seeking feedback from individuals, businesses and organisations that are involved in the dangerous goods transport industry and from the community.

The consultation is open for comment until 6 May 2022. 

Have your say
For more information and to provide your feedback on these regulation reviews visit 

Fail: our report card on the government’s handling of Australia’s extinction crisis

Sarah BekessyRMIT University and Brendan WintleThe University of Melbourne

Australia is losing more biodiversity than any other developed nation. Already this year the charismatic and once abundant gang gang cockatoo has been added to our national threatened species list, the koala has been listed as endangered and the Great Barrier Reef suffered another mass bleaching event.

The Australian public consistently rates the loss of our unique plants and animals as a key concern. Indeed, in a recent poll of 10,000 readers of The Conversation, “the environment” was identified as the second-biggest issue affecting their lives, behind climate change at number one.

The Coalition has been in government since 2013. So what has it done about the biodiversity crisis? Unfortunately, the state of Australia’s plants, animals and ecological communities suggests the answer is - not nearly enough.

In fact, as the extinction crisis has escalated, protection and recovery for threatened species has declined. Poor decisions are contributing to the problem, rather than solving it.

The Sorry State Of Australia’s Biodiversity

Australia has formally acknowledged the extinction of 104 native species since European colonisation, but the true number is likely much higher.

Threatened bird, mammal and plant populations have, on average, halved or worse since 1985. Species recently thought to be safe – such as the bogong moth, gang gang cockatoos, and even the iconic koala – are being added to the global and national threatened species lists following drought, catastrophic fires and habitat destruction.

The federal government listed the koala as an endangered species in February this year. Shutterstock

Today, 19 ecosystems show clear signs of collapse. This includes the Great Barrier Reef, savannas, mangroves, tropical rainforests, and tall mountain ash forests. These losses have profound ramifications for clean air and water, productive agriculture, pollination, and well-being.

Biodiversity is a crucial part of Australia’s national identity and Aboriginal culture. It delivers billions of dollars in tourism revenue and underpins most sectors of our economy.

It’s important for our health, too. COVID lockdowns recently brought the critical role of nature to our well-being into sharp focus, with thriving biodiversity shown to deliver avoided costs to the healthcare system.

Ignoring Key Recommendations

A 2018 Senate inquiry into the extinction crisis of Australian animals (fauna) concluded that native fauna was declining. It found biodiversity protection was under-resourced and failing, and Australia urgently needs an independent environmental regulator.

In 2022, the federal Auditor-General reviewed the government’s implementation of Australia’s threatened species legislation, finding:

limited evidence that desired outcomes are being achieved, due to the department’s lack of monitoring, reporting and support for the implementation of conservation advice, recovery plans.

The national Threatened Species Strategy focuses on 100 species and a few iconic places. But more than 1,800 species and ecosystems are threatened with extinction.

And economic analyses indicate we currently spend about around 7% of the targeted A$1.6 billion per year required to halt species loss and recover nationally listed threatened species.

These findings were reinforced in 2020 by a major independent review of Australia’s environment law – Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

The review by Professor Graeme Samuel made 38 recommendations, but almost none have been implemented. They include establishing an Environment Assurance Commissioner, rigorous national environmental standards and resourcing compliance and enforcement of environmental regulations.

Failure To Protect What We Have

Land clearing is a key threat to Australian wildlife, yet the government has not made meaningful progress to halt it.

The hectares cleared in New South Wales over the last decade have tripled, and a staggering 2.5 million hectares have been cleared in Queensland between 2000 and 2018.

Worryingly, more than 7.7 million hectares of threatened species habitat have been cleared since the EPBC Act came into force (between 2000 and 2017), including 1 million hectares of koala habitat.

Invasive species – such as cats, foxesrabbits, deer and buffel grass – continue to wreak havoc on many of our most endangered species.

Cats alone kill 1.7 billion native animals each year and threaten at least 120 species with extinction. While feral predator control has received some focus, the effort still falls well short of what’s required.

Wes Mountain/The ConversationCC BY-ND

Lack Of Transparency And Accountability

Official reviews have consistently found the federal government’s approach to protecting biodiversity lacks transparency and accountability.

Questions have also been raised about the federal government’s delay in releasing its five-yearly State of the Environment Report ahead of the election.

And investigations have raised serious concerns about how the government handled decisions regarding grasslands illegally destroyed by a company part-owned by a government minister.

long-nosed potoroo
The long-nosed potoroo is extremely vulnerable to cats and foxes. Shutterstock

A key advisor to the government recently labelled a major scheme to promote forest restoration as carbon credits as environmental and taxpayer “fraud”.

federal integrity commission, if it existed, could have explored these cases.

The government also continues to back activities that cause damage to biodiversity, including the fossil fuel and forestry industries.

On agriculture, the government is pursuing a “biodiversity stewardship” policy, to financially reward farmers for protecting wildlife.

But ongoing approval of unsustainable land management practices, particularly land clearing (of which agriculture is responsible for the lion’s share) will likely overshadow any stewardship gains.

The 26 Australian frogs at greatest risk of extinction | Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

So What’s Needed To Prevent Future Extinctions?

Labor has not yet revealed its full suite of environment policies. This week it told Guardian Australia it will release more details before the election, and has called on the government to release the State of the Environment report.

So what policies are needed to reverse the biodiversity crisis? The answer is: spend more and destroy less.

Just two days of Coalition election promises (estimated at $833 million per day) would fund recovery for Australia’s entire list of threatened species for a year.

Systems for protecting biodiversity need stronger legal mandates and less discretion for ministers to override decisions about project approvals, species listing and other matters.

Biodiversity should be integrated into key aspects of government practice. For example, it makes no sense to invest in protecting koalas while simultaneously approving koala habitat clearing.

And we need investment in every threatened species, not just a hand-picked few.

bleached coral
The Great Barrier Reef this year suffered the fourth mass bleaching event since 2016. Shutterstock

Finally, transformative policies are needed to support the substantial opportunities to enhance and restore biodiversity. This includes:

The fate of nature underpins our economy and health. Yet in the election campaign to date, there’s been a deafening silence about it.The Conversation

Sarah Bekessy, Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning, Leader, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group (ICON Science), RMIT University and Brendan Wintle, Professor in Conservation Ecology, School of Ecosystem and Forest Science, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Now we know the flaws of carbon offsets, it’s time to get real about climate change

Parks Australia/AAP
Declan KuchWestern Sydney University

Last month former carbon market watchdog Andrew MacIntosh blew the whistle on Australia’s carbon offset market. He described the scheme as a “rort” with up to 80% of carbon offsets “markedly low in integrity”.

While these allegations reignited debate over carbon offsets, the issues are not new. Integrity issues have plagued carbon trading schemes and offsets since they first emerged in the mid 1990s.

You might think this is a fairly major bug. In fact, it’s a feature. Polluting industries want low-cost compliance with climate laws – and poor quality offsets satisfy this demand. The key phrase there is “low cost”. That’s the reason free-market economists championed this kind of flexible compliance over direct regulation in the first place.

For polluters, it’s an easy win: buy offsets, appear to have done something, and keep on polluting. But bad quality offsets can actually make climate change worse.

Who loses? The rest of us. Questionable offsets and flexible compliance have slowed down the shift away from oil, gas and coal.

So should we abandon offsets entirely? Or do they have a place?

Carbon Offsets: A Failure In Market Experimentation

Carbon offsets have played a significant role in government and industry’s climate change response since emerging from early global climate negotiations. They have been popular because they do not require major change to the status quo.

Free market economists and their allies in industry have experimented with ways of paying for emission-reducing technology changes, avoiding deforestation, planting new trees, and building wind and solar farms. These methods have been packaged up as certificates and sold on market platforms created by both government and private actors as certified “emissions reductions”.

There are a number of problems with this.

First are the well-founded concerns over whether offset projects actually do reduce or soak up carbon. For instance, 85% of credits in the long-running United Nations carbon offset scheme did not actually reduce emissions as of 2017. That meant coal-fired power stations and industrial gas facilities owned by oil companies such as Shell were effectively subsidised while simultaneously increasing their emissions.

One of the world’s first regulatory carbon markets in NSW was similarly plagued by issues of “additionality” – that is, whether the offset activities would have happened anyway.

There are also questions about the governance of offsets. For offset schemes to be a real market, the buyers and sellers need to be separate, and the offsets need to independently verified. Australia’s offsets aren’t.

The Clean Energy Regulator creates, buys, sells and endorses the integrity of offsets.

Garbage pile in landfill
Offsets credited for landfill gas projects have been criticised for not reducing emissions. Shutterstock

Do Carbon Offsets Need Better Integrity?

Some experts have argued offsets and carbon markets can be fixed through better transparency, oversight, and more stringent baselines. This is appealing because it buys more time for sectors with no zero-emission technology substitute to develop one.

But this is too hopeful. Over the last 25 years, a clear pattern has emerged with each offsetting program: problems are visible, calls for improvements build, more transparency arrives, but industry pressure for low-cost compliance means almost nothing actually changes.

Some industries have benefited enormously from this soft regulation, especially fossil fuel extraction companies whose links to political parties have been concerning for many years.

Carbon offset markets won’t be fixed by calls for clear rules, especially while the Clean Energy Regulator is the buyer, seller and regulator of Australia’s offsets.

Moving Beyond Carbon Offsets

If offsets are broken by design, what should we do instead? In brief, we should switch from offsetting to a simple concept: keep fossil fuels in the ground.

To date, market-based approaches to environmental compliance have effectively given a huge windfall to the fossil fuel industry, emissions from which have only grown since offsetting approaches began. The industry has sponsored think tanks to support flexible compliance, attacked climate science and lobbied against international treaties trying to phase out out fossil fuels.

Wind generators in a modern windfarm
Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is the best way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Shutterstock

Rather than thinking of emissions by industries as something to offset, we must embrace the shift to a low-carbon society, free from fossil fuel combustion. We have to move past the magical thinking that carbon pricing and offsetting alone will lead to the technology shifts that will save us.

What does it mean for those of us buying high-quality carbon offsets for our flights? It might be a worthy act of charity, but it won’t undo the long-term damage done by carbon dioxide emissions.

Stopping new fossil fuel projects is the best way to avoid blowing through our shrinking carbon budgets into very dangerous levels of warming. Unlike offsets, phasing out fossil fuels can be easily monitored and verified. We know cutting fossil fuel use will make a difference as we work to check the worst ravages of climate change.The Conversation

Declan Kuch, Vice Chancellor's Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No, Mr Morrison – the safeguard mechanism is not a ‘sneaky carbon tax’

Mick Tsikas/AAP
Samantha HepburnDeakin University

Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week claimed Labor was planning a “sneaky carbon tax” should it win power, and Nationals senator Matt Canavan declared the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 was “dead”.

We can expect both these concepts to be thrown around a fair bit during the federal election campaign, so it’s worth getting a few things straight right now.

The Safeguard Mechanism Is Not A Carbon Tax

The Coalition’s claims of a “sneaky carbon tax” are a reference to Labor’s plans to tighten an existing policy known as the safeguard mechanism.

The safeguard mechanism was introduced by the Abbott Coalition government in 2016 – and it is not a carbon tax.

The mechanism was supposed to “safeguard” gains achieved through the Coalition’s then-named Emissions Reduction Fund, by ensuring the emissions cuts were not offset by increases elsewhere in the economy.

The rule applies to about 200 large industrial polluters that directly emit more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, in sectors such as electricity, mining, gas, manufacturing and transport.

steam rises form industrial plant
The safeguard mechanism applies to Australia’s biggest polluters. Shutterstock

Under the safeguard mechanism, these polluters must keep their emissions below historical levels, known as a baseline. If they exceed the baseline, polluters can either buy carbon credits to offset the excess pollution, or apply to the Clean Energy Regulator for the baseline to be adjusted.

Baseline adjustments were allowed because no overall cap was placed on the amount of emissions produced. Without a cap, the regulator has greater flexibility to make adjustments.

This flexibility has meant the safeguard mechanism is ineffectual. In fact, since its implementation, companies subject to the mechanism have actually increased their emissions by 7% overall.

So, Labor has promised to tighten the safeguard mechanism if it wins the election. This means large emitters will be less able to adjust their baselines, and gradually, their baselines will be reduced.

This approach coheres with the original purpose of the safeguard mechanism, and is supported by the Business Council of Australia and others.

Analysis suggests Labor’s policy could avoid a substantial 213 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions entering the atmosphere by 2030.

Labor has indicated that emissions-intensive industries, such as large coal and gas exporters, will not be forced to cut pollution in a way that makes them less competitive internationally.

man in hard hat and glasses
Labor plans to tighten the safeguard mechanism, a policy introduced by the Abbott government. Lukas Coch/AAP

Australia’s Never Had A Carbon Tax

Let’s be clear. No Australian government has implemented a carbon tax – and any suggestion to the contrary is inaccurate.

The spectre of a so-called “carbon tax” has haunted Labor ever since the 2010 election campaign, when then Prime Minister Julia Gillard ruled out implementing one.

Upon being returned to office, Gillard announced plans to legislate a carbon price, in the form of an emissions trading scheme.

Not all carbon pricing amounts to a carbon tax. But the Abbott-led Coalition nonetheless sought to conflate the two and accused Gillard of breaking a key election promise.

Greenhouse gas emissions, and associated climate change, come with costs. Extreme weather such as droughts and heatwaves damages crops and drives up demand for health care. Flooding, bushfires and sea level rise damages property.

Carbon pricing seeks to ensure those responsible for much of these costs – large polluters – either reduce their emissions or help pay for the social and environmental damage they cause.

Labor’s emissions trading scheme required polluters to report and pay for every tonne of carbon dioxide they produced, or face a financial penalty. The scheme was a success: compliance was high and emissions reduction targets were met.

The policy, however, was short-lived. The Abbott government repealed it in July 2014.

homes damaged by fire
Climate change causes ‘external’ costs such as bushfire damage. Shutterstock

Net-Zero By 2050 Is Very Much Alive

So what of Senator Canavan’s claims this week that net-zero emissions targets were “dead” and should be scrapped?

Canavan this week told the ABC:

“[UK Prime Minister] Boris Johnson said he is pausing the net zero commitment, Germany is building coal and gas infrastructure, Italy’s reopening coal-fired power plants. It’s all over. It’s all over bar the shouting here”.

Late last year, Australia committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. That means cutting greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible, and then, for emissions that cannot be avoided, removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

Net-zero emissions by 2050 is needed avert the worst impacts of climate change. Australia is also required to meet the target under its Paris Agreement obligations.

All Australian states and territories have committed to the net-zero goal. Victoria, the ACT and Tasmania have gone further and legislated net-zero as a target.

man in suit talks behind microphones
Senator Canavan wrongly claims net-zero is ‘dead’ . Mick Tsikas/AAP

Australia may be a long way off achieving net-zero by 2050, particularly in the absence of a robust and credible carbon price. But Canavan is wrong to suggest the goal has been abandoned globally.

Some countries have already achieved net-zero. The UK has a legally binding net-zero target by 2050 and Germany has pledged to get there by 2045.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has left countries such as Germany worried about their reliance on Russian gas, and this may see a short-term increase in fossil fuel use in Europe.

But the world remains largely committed to the net-zero target.

Just a few days ago, German finance minister Christian Lindner outlined the importance of the low-carbon transition to the nation’s energy security, describing renewable energy as “freedom energy”.

So, contrary to Canavan’s suggestion, the world’s shift to clean energy is likely to accelerate in the longer term.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Professor, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Net zero by 2050 will hit a major timing problem technology can’t solve. We need to talk about cutting consumption

Mark DiesendorfUNSW Sydney

Many climate activists, scientists, engineers and politicians are trying to reassure us the climate crisis can be solved rapidly without any changes to lifestyle, society or the economy.

To make the vast scale of change palatable, advocates suggest all we have to do is switch fossil fuels for renewable power, electric vehicles and energy efficiency technologies, add seaweed to livestock feed to cut methane and embrace green hydrogen for heavy industries such as steel-making.

There’s just one problem: time. We’re on a very tight timeline to halve emissions within eight years and hit net zero by 2050. While renewables are making major inroads, the world’s overall primary energy use keeps rising. That means renewables are chasing a retreating target.

My new research shows if the world’s energy consumption grows at the pre-COVID rate, technological change alone will not be enough to halve global CO₂ emissions by 2030. We will have to cut energy consumption 50-75% by 2050 while accelerating the renewable build. And that means lifestyle change driven by social policies.

Man installing solar
Renewables must be built at a much faster rate. Shutterstock

The Limitations Of Technological Change

We must confront a hard fact: In the year 2000, fossil fuels supplied 80% of the world’s total primary energy consumption. In 2019, they provided 81%.

How is that possible, you ask, given the soaring growth rate of renewable electricity over that time period? Because world energy consumption has been growing rapidly, apart from a temporary pause in 2020. So far, most of the growth has been supplied by fossil fuels, especially for transportation and non-electrical heating. The 135% growth in renewable electricity over that time frame seems huge, but it started from a small base. That’s why it couldn’t catch fossil fuelled electricity’s smaller percentage increase from a large base.

As a renewable energy researcher, I have no doubt technological change is at the point where we can now affordably deploy it to get to net zero. But the transition is not going to be fast enough on its own. If we don’t hit our climate goals, it’s likely our planet will cross a climate tipping point and begin an irreversible descent into more heatwaves, droughts, floods and sea-level rise.

Our to-do list for a liveable climate is simple: convert essentially all transportation and heating to electricity while switching all electricity production to renewables. But to complete this within three decades is not simple.

Even at much higher rates of renewable growth, we will not be able to replace all fossil fuels by 2050. This is not the fault of renewable energy. Other low-carbon energy sources like nuclear would take much longer to build, and leave us even further behind.

Do we have other tools we can use to buy time? CO₂ capture is getting a great deal of attention, but it seems unlikely to make a significant contribution. The scenarios I explored in my research assume removing CO₂ from the atmosphere by carbon capture and storage or direct air capture does not occur on a large scale, because these technologies are speculative, risky and very expensive.

The only scenarios in which we succeed in replacing fossil fuels in time require something quite different. We can keep global warming under 2℃ if we slash global energy consumption by 50% to 75% by 2050 as well as greatly accelerating the transition to 100% renewables.

Individual Behaviour Change Is Useful, But Insufficient

Let’s be clear: individual behaviour change has some potential for mitigation, but it’s limited. The International Energy Agency recognises net zero by 2050 will require behavioural changes as well as technological changes. But the examples it gives are modest, such as washing clothes in cold water, drying them on clotheslines, and reducing speed limits on roads.

The 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate mitigation has taken a step further, acknowledging the importance of collectively reducing energy consumption with a chapter on “Demand, services and social aspects of mitigation”. To do this effectively, government policies are needed.

Rich people and rich countries are responsible for far and away the most greenhouse gas emissions. It follows that we have to reduce consumption in high-income countries while improving human well-being.

We’ll Need Policies Leading To Large Scale Consumption Changes

We all know the technologies in our climate change toolbox to tackle climate change: renewables, electrification, green hydrogen. But while these will help drive a rapid transition to clean energy, they are not designed to cut consumption.

These policies would actually cut consumption, while also smoothing the social transition:

  • a carbon tax and additional environmental taxes
  • wealth and inheritance taxes
  • a shorter working week to share the work around
  • job guarantee at the basic wage for all adults who want to work and who can’t find a job in the formal economy
  • non-coercive policies to end population growth, especially in high income countries
  • boosting government spending on poverty reduction, green infrastructure and public services as part of a shift to Universal Basic Services.

You might look at this list and think it’s impossible. But just remember the federal government funded the economic response to the pandemic by creating money. We could fund these policies the same way. As long as spending is within the productive capacity of the nation, there is no risk of driving inflation.

Yes, these policies mean major change. But major disruptive change in the form of climate change is happening regardless. Let’s try to shape our civilisation to be resilient in the face of change.The Conversation

Mark Diesendorf, Honorary Associate Professor, UNSW Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Avalon Golf Course Bushcare Needs You

We're so short of helpers we've had to cancel for the time being. Meanwhile the weeds will go gangbusters. 
We used to meet on the second Wednesday afternoon of each month. Could you come if we worked on another day or time? say a morning, or on a weekend day? 
Contact Geoff Searl on 0439 292 566 if you'd like to help. He'd love to hear from you. 

We have fun using the Tree Popper, here with our supervisor from Dragonfly Environmental. We can lever out quite big Ochnas, aka Mickey Mouse plant from Africa.  We want to bring back the bush, not let the weeds win!

Ochna or Mickey Mouse plant has yellow flowers in spring, then lots of green berries that turn black when ripe. Seedlings come up in hundreds. Ochna has a very strong taproot but the steady pressure of the Tree Popper lifts the plant out of the ground easily. The alternative control is repeated scraping and painting with Roundup, very slow and time consuming. If you have an Ochna you cant remove, you can enjoy the flowers, then PLEASE prune it so that berries can't develop.

Pittwater Reserves: Histories + Notes + Pictorial Walks

A History Of The Campaign For Preservation Of The Warriewood Escarpment by David Palmer OAM and Angus Gordon OAM
Angophora Reserve - Angophora Reserve Flowers
Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial
Avalon's Village Green: Avalon Park Becomes Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Bairne Walking Track Ku-Ring-Gai Chase NP by Kevin Murray
Bangalley Headland  Bangalley Mid Winter
Banksias of Pittwater
Barrenjoey Boathouse In Governor Phillip Park  Part Of Our Community For 75 Years: Photos From The Collection Of Russell Walton, Son Of Victor Walton
Barrenjoey Headland: Spring flowers 
Barrenjoey Headland after fire
Bayview Baths
Bayview Wetlands
Beeby Park
Bilgola Beach
Botham Beach by Barbara Davies
Bungan Beach Bush Care
Careel Bay Saltmarsh plants 
Careel Bay Birds  
Careel Bay Clean Up day
Careel Bay Playing Fields History and Current
Careel Creek 
Careel Creek - If you rebuild it they will come
Centre trail in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Chiltern Track- Ingleside by Marita Macrae
Clareville Beach
Clareville/Long Beach Reserve + some History
Coastal Stability Series: Cabbage Tree Bay To Barrenjoey To Observation Point by John Illingsworth, Pittwater Pathways, and Dr. Peter Mitchell OAM
Cowan Track by Kevin Murray
Curl Curl To Freshwater Walk: October 2021 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Currawong and Palm Beach Views - Winter 2018
Currawong-Mackerel-The Basin A Stroll In Early November 2021 - photos by Selena Griffith
Currawong State Park Currawong Beach +  Currawong Creek
Deep Creek To Warriewood Walk photos by Joe Mills
Drone Gives A New View On Coastal Stability; Bungan: Bungan Headland To Newport Beach + Bilgola: North Newport Beach To Avalon + Bangalley: Avalon Headland To Palm Beach
Duck Holes: McCarrs Creek by Joe Mills
Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Dundundra Falls Reserve: August 2020 photos by Selena Griffith - Listed in 1935
Elsie Track, Scotland Island
Elvina Track in Late Winter 2019 by Penny Gleen
Elvina Bay Walking Track: Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills 
Elvina Bay-Lovett Bay Loop Spring 2020 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Fern Creek - Ingleside Escarpment To Warriewood Walk + Some History photos by Joe Mills
Iluka Park, Woorak Park, Pittwater Park, Sand Point Reserve, Snapperman Beach Reserve - Palm Beach: Some History
Ingleside Wildflowers August 2013
Irrawong - Ingleside Escarpment Trail Walk Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills
Irrawong - Mullet Creek Restoration
Katandra Bushland Sanctuary - Ingleside
Lucinda Park, Palm Beach: Some History + 2022 Pictures
McCarrs Creek
McCarr's Creek to Church Point to Bayview Waterfront Path
McKay Reserve
Mona Vale Beach - A Stroll Along, Spring 2021 by Kevin Murray
Mona Vale Headland, Basin and Beach Restoration
Mount Murray Anderson Walking Track by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Mullet Creek
Narrabeen Creek
Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment: Past Notes Present Photos by Margaret Woods
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park Expansion
Narrabeen Rockshelf Aquatic Reserve
Nerang Track, Terrey Hills by Bea Pierce
Newport Bushlink - the Crown of the Hill Linked Reserves
Newport Community Garden - Woolcott Reserve
Newport to Bilgola Bushlink 'From The Crown To The Sea' Paths:  Founded In 1956 - A Tip and Quarry Becomes Green Space For People and Wildlife 
Pittwater spring: waterbirds return to Wetlands
Pittwater's Lone Rangers - 120 Years of Ku-Ring-Gai Chase and the Men of Flowers Inspired by Eccleston Du Faur 
Pittwater's Parallel Estuary - The Cowan 'Creek
Resolute Track at West Head by Kevin Murray
Resolute Track Stroll by Joe Mills
Riddle Reserve, Bayview
Salvation Loop Trail, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park- Spring 2020 - by Selena Griffith
Stapleton Reserve
Stapleton Park Reserve In Spring 2020: An Urban Ark Of Plants Found Nowhere Else
The Chiltern Track
The Resolute Beach Loop Track At West Head In Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park by Kevin Murray
Towlers Bay Walking Track by Joe Mills
Trafalgar Square, Newport: A 'Commons' Park Dedicated By Private Landholders - The Green Heart Of This Community
Tranquil Turimetta Beach, April 2022 by Joe Mills
Turimetta Beach Reserve by Joe Mills, Bea Pierce and Lesley
Turimetta Beach Reserve: Old & New Images (by Kevin Murray) + Some History
Turimetta Headland
Warriewood Wetlands and Irrawong Reserve
Whale Beach Ocean Reserve: 'The Strand' - Some History On Another Great Protected Pittwater Reserve
Winji Jimmi - Water Maze

These hot days are tough on our wildlife - please put out some water in a shaded location and if you come across an animal that is in distress, dehydrated or injured - please contact your local wildlife rescue group:
Photo: Bronwyn Gould

New Shorebirds WingThing  For Youngsters Available To Download

A Shorebirds WingThing educational brochure for kids (A5) helps children learn about shorebirds, their life and journey. The 2021 revised brochure version was published in February 2021 and is available now. You can download a file copy here.

If you would like a free print copy of this brochure, please send a self-addressed envelope with A$1.10 postage (or larger if you would like it unfolded) affixed to: BirdLife Australia, Shorebird WingThing Request, 2-05Shorebird WingThing/60 Leicester St, Carlton VIC 3053.

Finalists Announced In All Categories For 2022 Australian Surfing Awards Incorporating The Hall Of Fame

April 28, 2022
The votes are in and the finalists are locked across fifteen categories in this year's Australian Surfing Awards Incorporating The Hall of Fame. Iconic names like like Stephanie Gilmore, Jack Robinson, Joel Parkinson, Sam Bloom and Bede Durbidge are just a few on the honour roll. 

Chris Mater, CEO, Surfing Australia, said, “Surfing's night of nights is something all of us look forward to each and every year. To be able to come together as a community to celebrate the biggest and best in the business of surfing in Australia is a privilege we certainly don't take for granted at Surfing Australia."

Top Ten Finalists in the 2022 Australian Surf Photo of The Year Category will be announced May 3rd via official press release. 

The Australian Surfing Awards is proudly supported by the Queensland Government, through Tourism and Events Queensland, and features on the It’s Live! in Queensland events calendar.

2022 Australian Surfing Awards Incorporating the Hall of Fame 
Male Surfer of the Year
Liam O'Brien
Morgan Cibilic 
Jack Robinson

Female Surfer of the Year  
Isabella Nichols
Stephanie Gilmore
Molly Picklum  

Griffith University Rising Star Award - Female
Quincy Symonds
Sierra Kerr
Willow Hardy

Griffith University Rising Star Award - Male  
Lennox Smith
Kobi Clements
Jarvis Earle 

Oakley Heavy Water Award  
Kipp Caddy
Russell Bierke
Zac Haynes 

Reeftip Greater Good Award 
Bells 50 Year Storm
Surf Aid's Make A Wave
Ian Jarman   

Peter Troy Lifetime Award  
Mark Lane
Mark Windon
Brenda Miley

Ruffie Coach Of The Year
Bede Durbidge
Andy King
Jay Thompson  
ACCIONA Innovation Award 
Surf Lakes
Dark Arts
Sandon Point Boardriders/SLSC
Zambrero Surf Culture Award    
Jade Wheatley
Surfing NSW "Her Wave"
WA Surf Gallery 

Simon Anderson Club Award  
Snapper Rocks Surfriders Club
Queenscliff Boardriders Club
North Narrabeen Boardriders 

Woolworths Indigenous Surfing Community Celebration Award 
La Perouse Boardriders
Surfing Victoria Indigenous Engagement Program

Female Para-Surfer of The Year Award 
Sam Bloom
Jocelyn Neumeuller 
Sarah Jane Gibson

Male Para-Surfer of The Year Award
Mark Stewart
Gavin Bellis
Matt Formston

Surfing Australia Surf Video of the Year    
"Surfing" by Dan Scott
"Re-Pulse" by Justin Gane

World-renowned Surf Journalist Nick Carroll continues in the role of Curator of the Australian Surfing Awards incorporating the Hall of Fame.

The Australian Surfing Awards incorporating the Hall of Fame is proudly supported by Tourism and Events Queensland, QT Gold Coast,  Griffith University, Reeftip Drinks Co., Zambrero, ACCIONA,  Modus Operandi, Andrew Peace Wines and OnStone.

Young Writers’ Competition 2022

Young people across the Northern Beaches are encouraged to enter this year’s Young Writers’ Competition for their chance to be published.  

Now in its 13th year, the annual competition is open to students from kindergarten to grade 12 who live or go to school on the Northern Beaches. The theme of this year’s competition is ‘rise’.

“The Northern Beaches is home to some very talented young writers, and I continue to be blown away by the creativity and skill of entrants in our annual Young Writers’ Competition,” Mayor Michael Regan said.

“It’s time for young writers to once again rise and shine and show us what they’ve got. More than 500 stories were submitted in last year’s competition, and we suspect this year will be just as competitive.”

Entrants can write on any topic or theme but must include a derivation of the word ‘rise’. Entries will be grouped by age and judged according to characterisation, originality, plot, and language.

Four finalists will be chosen in each age category and invited to a presentation night on Wednesday 10 August, where a winner, runner-up, and two highly commended prizes are awarded.

Finalists from each category will have their stories published in an eBook which is added to the Northern Beaches Council Library collection.  

Entries close Tuesday 31 May 2022.  Entrants must be members of the Northern Beaches Council Library Service.  

Complete the online entry form and attach your story as a Word document. If your story is hand-written, then a clear, readable photo or scanned PDF can be submitted. 

Not a member of the library? Don't worry, Council will use this form to create a membership for you. Just mark 'no' under the library member field in the online form. If you are a member and unsure of your library card number, just mark 'yes' in the library member field in the online form and Council will find your library membership number. 

Entries are judged according to characterisation, originality, plot and use of language and arranged into six different age group categories.

Four finalists are chosen in each age category and invited to a presentation night where a winner, runner-up and two highly commended prizes are awarded. Finalists from each category will have their stories published in an eBook that will be added to Council's collection. 

For more information visit Council's library.  

Senior Australian Of The Year Backs The ‘Let Pensioners Work’ Campaign

April 28, 2022
The 2022 Senior Australian of the Year, Ms Val Dempsey, has today backed National Seniors Australia’s campaign to let pensioners to work without losing the Age Pension.

The life-long St John Ambulance volunteer drew on her own life experiences as a pensioner when describing the need for changes to the Age Pension income rules.

“As a registered nurse, it would be so easy to supplement our household income,” Ms Dempsey said.

“However, my hourly rate instantly puts me over any amount of money that I’m allowed to earn while being on the Age Pension. I wouldn’t even be able to get three hours in a fortnight without it affecting my pension.”

National Seniors CEO and Director of Research, Professor John McCallum, described Ms Dempsey’s story as a powerful illustration of pensioners’ frustrations with barriers to paid work in this country.

“National Seniors is calling on the Federal Government to let Age Pension recipients work without application of the income test, on a three-year trial,” Professor McCallum said.

“Our surveys of thousands of older Australians have demonstrated the urgent need for this change, and Val Dempsey’s story puts a human face on the statistics.”

Ms Dempsey recounted caravanning with her husband in earlier years and wanting to work in local communities they visited but being unable to do so.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of people in the same position as myself who would enjoy contributing to the community,” Ms Dempsey said.

“Certainly, we don’t mind paying the amount of tax that one would be taxed. What I’d like to see changed is the ability for people to earn extra income without it affecting the pension.”

National Seniors believes the amount a pensioner is allowed to earn before it affects their pension is too low, and Ms Dempsey agrees.

“Perhaps there might be some consideration to raising the threshold where one can earn a certain amount of money without it affecting the pension,” Ms Dempsey said. “It doesn’t have to be thousands and thousands of dollars. But because it is only in our case only a few hundred dollars, that changes our ability to go and work.”

An additional barrier Ms Dempsey identified is the Age Pension rule that if a person’s earned income reduces their pension payments to zero dollars over a 6-fortnight period, they lose their pension entitlement completely.

“If you earn over an amount of money that stops your pension entirely, you then have to reapply for the whole thing,” Ms Dempsey said.

“And that’s an enormous issue for people. It means more doctor visits, it means more going to Centrelink, it means more form filling out, it means declaring all of your assets, it means to gather and collect bank statements. It is a very big job to apply for a pension.”

As a community-minded person, an enthusiastic volunteer and a highly active senior, Ms Dempsey is willing and able to serve the community as both a volunteer and a worker. But she is passionate about the economic and social benefits of older Australians contributing to the workforce.

“Older people, our wonderful seniors across Australia, could benefit greatly from being out there and still contributing to the community in the workforce,” she said.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re taking jobs from juniors. It means that we’re actually being involved in the community. Seniors have so much to offer. And for them to have a monetary reward for being able to contribute to the community is very high on my agenda.”

The high cost of living and relatively low rate of increase to the pension in recent times are also motivations Ms Dempsey recognises.

“We know right across Australia that the pension does not keep up with the annual inflation rate, and lately it’s been unfair,” she said.

“And I would really like personally to be able to bring extra income into the house. But I am completely put off by the fact that, first of all, it will affect my pension.

“And secondly, if I do it for too long and I do too much over too many weeks, I am in a position where my pension is completely taken away. And that really concerns me.”

“If the Senior Australian of the Year can’t engage in paid community service because of outdated pension rules, something must change,” said Professor McCallum.

“Australian pensioners want work and Australian businesses want workers, so it just makes sense for the Federal Government to implement a three-year trial of waiving the Age Pension income test.”

Have You Heard Of Walking Netball?

To celebrate Seniors Week, we encourage you to give it a try! Programs are running in Ballina, Penrith, Manly Warringah, South West Rocks, Illawarra, Newcastle & Sutherland Shire.
For more information go to
Local Walking Netball dates (March 30 to July 2022) at:

Rising out-of-pocket health costs are a worry. But the major parties have barely mentioned it

Anthony ScottThe University of Melbourne

Rising out-of-pocket costs for health care is an important issue the major parties have not yet substantially addressed during the election campaign.

We heard just this week how health-care costs are rising faster than other costs of living pressures. Health-care costs are also rising faster than wages. The rising cost of specialists’ fees, in particular, are a concern. So, many Australian families are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up.

Earlier this year, a major consumer survey found 30% of people with chronic conditions were not confident they could afford needed health care if they became seriously ill; 14% could not pay for health care or medicine because of a shortage of money.

Out-Of-Pocket Costs Are Rising

Out-of-pocket health-care costs cover a range of expenses not covered by Medicare or private health insurance, such as doctors’ fees for consultations and surgery.

Only 35.1% of specialist consultations were bulk billed in 2020-21 compared with 88.8% of GP services.

For private (multi-day) hospital care in 2019-20, 43.7% of separations (hospital admissions that include procedures and operations) had no hospital or medical out-of-pocket cost.

Out-of-pocket costs are rising, Medicare statistics show.

Made with Flourish

There is ample evidence out-of-pocket costs reduce access to, and use of, health care. This more strongly affects people who need health care the most.

For instance, access to timely specialist care in Australia depends on your income and ability to pay.

Although richer people use more specialist care, on average, it is less-affluent people who have higher need for health care. Yet it is less-affluent people who have to wait to see a specialist in a public hospital.

High doctors’ fees have other consequences. They may provide skewed incentives to doctors, leading to overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Doctors may also flock to high-earning specialties while we have a shortage of GPs (who are paid half as much as specialists).

What Do The Major Parties Promise?

Health policies announced by the major parties ahead of the federal election do not necessarily translate into lower out-of-pocket health costs, or focus on the most pressing issue.

The Coalition has promised to lower the safety net threshold for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This announcement, made in this year’s federal budget, would make medicines cheaper or free for people who need multiple scripts a year.

But this is an area where out-of-pocket costs have been falling for some time compared with other areas of spending. So any announcement may have been better targeted at areas where out-of-pocket costs are growing more quickly.

Person using EFTPOS machine in pharmacy or clinic
Election policies announced so far don’t always address the biggest out-of-pocket costs. Shutterstock

In any election there is always a focus on access to GPs and bulk billing. This includes Labor’s proposal for new urgent care centres, which would provide bulk billed services to take the pressure off emergency departments.

However, neither of the major parties are doing anything about the continuing and much larger increases in specialists’ out-of-pocket costs.

Can Informed Patients Make A Difference?

The Coalition introduced a price transparency website in 2019 that provides estimates of out-of-pocket costs for private hospital care, with plans for doctors to voluntarily upload their fees. Some private health insurers also have such websites.

However, these websites rely entirely on consumers doing the “leg work” by shopping around to reduce their out-of-pocket costs. The assumption is that by providing consumers with more information, they will make better choices. But this is too simplistic because information can difficult to get and understand, and these websites don’t include data on the quality of care.

Our review on price transparency websites in health care shows they may not work for consumers. Not all consumers can or want to use them. There’s also the risk doctors could use these websites to see what other doctors are charging and increase their fees.

It could be better if these websites were used by GPs when referring patients to specialists. Patients can also be encouraged to ask about the out-of-pocket cost when booking an appointment or during the visit.

But this does not help patients who are usually in a vulnerable position, who want care quickly, do not have the information or time to shop around, and might think the care they receive will be affected if they ask about cost.

Can Doctors Make A Difference?

Doctors set their own fees and many use the Australian Medical Association fee schedule as guidance. They decide what fee to charge, whether to bulk bill, or whether to use gap cover provided by private health insurers for private hospital care.

At the moment it would require a brave politician to directly control doctors’ fees given the constitutional protections they have and the way Medicare and private health insurance were designed to provide subsidies to patients, not to directly pay doctors.

However, something the major parties can address is “bill shock”. Patients don’t always know the doctor’s fee before they visit, and in some circumstances don’t know in advance how much a procedure will cost.

If care involves many tests, visits and procedures over time by different doctors, then there will be a bill for each. This shifts all the financial risk to patients, something private health insurance was designed to handle.

At a minimum, doctors’s fees and out-of-pocket costs need to be bundled together and published as an upfront quote or range for the expected course of care. This is something that could be addressed by one of the major parties.

What Next?

Addressing rising out-of-pocket health costs is a complex area linked closely to broader reform of the health-care system, which neither major party has promised to do anything about.

Without such reforms we’ll see Australians prioritising spending on food, housing and petrol over health care, in the current climate.

But Australia cannot afford to allow this to happen. As we have witnessed during the pandemic, an unhealthy population is not only bad for individuals, it’s bad for us all.The Conversation

Anthony Scott, Professor of health economics, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How the ‘Sydney School’ changed postwar Australian architecture

John Lander Browne’s hillside house at Church Point might have been Sydney’s first notable postwar interpretation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic principles. Max Dupain (c.1948)Author provided
Davina JacksonUniversity of Kent

Australia’s architectural historians have struggled to explain the “Sydney School” of nature-responsive modern houses built after the second world war. As well as arguing about whether any “school” existed, they also overlooked some of the movement’s pioneering designers and residences.

Studies of vintage Australian architecture and home publications suggest a hillside house at Church Point, built in 1948 by long-forgotten architect John Lander Browne, was Sydney’s first notable postwar interpretation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic (“natural”) principles for designing houses.

Rustic Materials Vs White Paint

Wright’s Prairie houses (1906-09) ignited one side of modernism’s “great dialogue” about designing buildings either to harmonise with their natural surroundings or to appear superior – like abstract sculptures glistening above manicured lawns. At first he avoided painting his exteriors — in contrast to 1920s European modernists (led by Bauhaus School professors Le CorbusierWalter GropiusMarcel Breuer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe).

They pioneered the “international style” of whitewashed masonry and steel-framed glass houses.

Sydney School residences were labelled “nuts and berries” because they exposed rustic materials like brick, timber and stone. This differentiated them from modern Sydney houses that were painted.

The argument of Sydney’s postwar organic versus international style usually has been exemplified by Peter Muller’s brick and timber Audette House in Castlecrag (1954), in contrast to Harry Seidler’s pristine white Rose Seidler House at Wahroonga (1950).

Architect Peter Muller talks about his design of the Audette house.

Muller became the most internationally successful architect from the Sydney School. He transferred Wright’s principles and his own Asia-Buddhist experiences to produce supra-romantic village resorts in Indonesia.

And Seidler became Australia’s stellar modernist across all building types, especially the symbols of American capitalism: skyscrapers.

‘A New Eclecticism’

Most Sydney architects didn’t take sides in the style war as starkly as Muller and Seidler.

They copied new ideas from America, Britain, Scandinavia and Europe and combined these with traditional Mediterranean, South American, colonial and Oriental concepts that were introduced to Sydney before the war.

In a 1948 article for Britain’s Architectural Review (AR), visiting English architect Ryan Westwood “looked in vain for something that might be called an ‘Australian’ architecture”.

He noted:

inspiration has evidently sprung from Europe with latterly a crop of plagiarisms from California.

In AR’s September 1951 edition, Melbourne architect-critic Robin Boyd satirised the visual similarities of houses by Australian architects who were thought to be ideologically opposed. Boyd applauded signs of “a new eclecticism”.

Robin Boyd featured Harry Seidler’s Rose Seidler House at Wahroonga in his article on ‘opposing schools’. A New Eclecticism, Architecture Review, September 1951

Magazines show that in the late 1940s and early 1950s (pre-television) many Sydney architects were planning houses around prominent fireplaces and chimneys that were hand-built with rough-hewn sandstone blocks. And most avoided the modern concept of flat roofs, which often leaked and were usually opposed by local councils and neighbours.

One Sydney architect, John D. Moore, included no flat roof among his 14 proposals for postwar modern houses, published in Home Again! Domestic Architecture for the Normal Australian (1944).

Sketch by Sydney architect John D. Moore for a practical suburban house that could be built for young families. Home Again! (1944)

Mid-career practitioner Sydney Ancher won the Royal Australian Institute of Architects’ 1945 Sulman Medal (best building in New South Wales) for a slate-gabled house. It was painted pale pink to suit the gum trees on his Killara site.

John Lander Browne’s Church Point house. Houses of Australia, George Beiers (1948)

John Lander Browne’s organic house included one of Sydney’s first postwar flat roofs. Set high on a steep site, it was accessed via a garden path and sandstone steps leading up to large terrace. Both storeys were clad in dark-stained weatherboards, offset by white window frames. (This was a Swedish strategy that might have helped to refract Northern Europe’s faint sunlight indoors.)

The house featured in George Beiers’ 1948 book, Houses of Australia, and in Westwood’s AR article.

Wright’s organic approach also inspired England-born architect Douglas Snelling, who switched from commercial graphics and interior design after his second working visit to Los Angeles in 1948. He was overlooked in key articles about Sydney modernism — by Milo Dunphy (1962), Jennifer Taylor (1970s-1990s), Stanislaus Fung (1985) and other postmodernist historiographers who aim to retrospectively define Sydney modernism.

But Snelling’s brick, cedar and sandstone residences were strongly promoted in 1950s magazines. They deserve recognition now as pioneering contributions to the Sydney School.

The Hay (Richmond) House at St Ives, by Douglas Snelling (1950-53). Max DupainAuthor provided
Derek Wrigley’s first owner-built house at Dee Why (c1949). Author provided

Another English architect, Derek Wrigley, built two modest homes for himself on steep sites at Dee Why in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Today, he claims these reflected the Bauhaus teachings of his main design professor in Manchester. But old Sydney magazines show a Wright-style stone fireplace in Wrigley’s butterfly-roofed first house (OB1) and a California conical metal fireplace resting on a large rock projecting into the living room of his second residence (OB2).

Wrigley and Snelling both seem to have appreciated innovation, but they shared Wright’s basic alignment with nature.

East Sydney Tech lecturer Phyllis Shillito’s 1954 book, 60 Beach and Holiday Homes, included a varnished weatherboard house in Hunters Hill by J. Lindsay Sever, another forgotten Sydney modern architect. This was influenced by Wright’s Taliesin West compound in the Arizona desert and deserves inclusion in future histories of the Sydney School.

House by J. Lindsay Sever at Hunters Hill (1954). Ted Wood, in 60 Beach and Holiday Homes, Phyllis ShillitoAuthor provided

Shillito’s book also includes classic white residences by Sydney Ancher and Arthur Baldwinson, and key European emigrés — Hugo StosselAaron BolotHans Peter Oser and Harry Divola — whose houses are excellent interpretations of the international style, built on remarkable coastal and bush sites in Sydney. But their works seem inconsistent with the basically Wrightian organic agenda that underpinned the Sydney School.

The heyday of the Sydney School was the mid-1950s to the early 1970s. During this time, younger Sydney architects were interpreting Wright’s followers in southern California and Scandinavia.

Wright died in 1959, causing the CIAM group leading the international style to disband. Then Wright’s greatest opponents, Le Corbusier, Gropius and Mies, died in the mid-to-late 1960s. And modernism moved on.

Sydney’s 1960s “humanists” (who followed Scandinavian architects in trying to synthesise European communist and American democratic/capitalist ideologies, and who were responsive to nature) included Ken WoolleyPeter MullerHugh BuhrichPhilip CoxNeville GruzmanBruce RickardJohn AllenRussell JackIan McKayBryce MortlockPeter JohnsonJohn JamesRoss Thorne and Don Gazzard.

Many favoured face brick and stained timber and replaced flat roofs with canopies raked at unusual angles. Some also introduced a cross-sectional strategy of central staircases and staggered floor levels. Their houses were intended not merely to harmonise with their sites but to dramatise Sydney’s extraordinary topography and vegetation.

Where Does Brutalism Fit In?

There is one major conundrum involved in classifying modern Sydney houses built after the second world war. Does Brutalism belong to the Sydney School?

Brutalism was a deliberately crude and visually aggressive style of building with rough-cast, unpainted cement. It was pioneered by Le Corbusier and artist Jean Dubuffet after their 1945 visit to Switzerland, gathering artworks by patients in mental asylums.

Dubuffet’s 1947 Art Brut manifesto celebrated primitive and psychotic creativity. Le Corbusier’s later housing complex, Unité d'habitation in Marseille (1947-52), physically expressed Dubuffet’s words with béton brut (raw concrete).

Because concrete is made with natural substances (cement and water), it could be interpreted as another strand of the Sydney School’s emphasis on earthy materials.

But Brutalist architecture, as interpreted in late 1940s-1950s Scandinavia and Britain — and by Australians John Andrews and Colin Madigan in the 1960s and 1970s — was mostly limited to government buildings for education, administration, health care and public housing (notably the Tao Gofers-designed Sirius building at Circular Quay).

Sydney School historian Jennifer Taylor identified only one residence, by Tony Moore at North Sydney (1959), as being brutalist in style. Heritage architects from Docomomo now contradict her because Moore’s house was a romantic composition of bricks, timber and tiles. (Although concrete also could appear romantic, as demonstrated in the 1920s by Wright’s protegés, Walter and Marion Griffin, with their Knitlock houses at Castlecrag.)

Today’s specialist on Sydney Brutalism, Glenn Harper, has listed the Harry and Penelope Seidler house in Killara (1966-67), the Hugh and Eva Buhrich House 2 in Castlecrag (1968–72), the Peter Johnson House in Chatswood (1963) and the Bill and Ruth Lucas House in Castlecrag (1957) as examples of Brutalism (although the steel and glass Lucas house and the brick, timber and tile Johnson house did not emphasise concrete, while several all-concrete “60s spaceship” houses by Stan Symonds are often ignored).

Intriguingly, most of the few Sydney houses that have been labelled Brutalist were designed by architects for their own occupation.

It was difficult to persuade aspirational clients to pay for architecture that British theorist Reyner Banham, in a 1955 AR article, recognised for “precisely its brutality – je-m’en foutisme, its bloody-mindedness”.The Conversation

Davina Jackson, Honorary Academic, School of Architecture, University of Kent

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Honeybees join humans as the only known animals that can tell the difference between odd and even numbers

Scarlett HowardMonash UniversityAdrian DyerRMIT UniversityAndrew GreentreeRMIT University, and Jair GarciaRMIT University

“Two, four, six, eight; bog in, don’t wait”.

As children, we learn numbers can either be even or odd. And there are many ways to categorise numbers as even or odd.

We may memorise the rule that numbers ending in 1, 3, 5, 7, or 9 are odd while numbers ending in 0, 2, 4, 6, or 8 are even. Or we may divide a number by 2 – where any whole number outcome means the number is even, otherwise it must be odd.

Similarly, when dealing with real-world objects we can use pairing. If we have an unpaired element left over, that means the number of objects was odd.

Until now odd and even categorisation, also called parity classification, had never been shown in non-human animals. In a new study, published today in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, we show honeybees can learn to do this.

Why Is Parity Categorisation Special?

Parity tasks (such as odd and even categorisation) are considered abstract and high-level numerical concepts in humans.

Interestingly, humans demonstrate accuracy, speed, language and spatial relationship biases when categorising numbers as odd or even. For example, we tend to respond faster to even numbers with actions performed by our right hand, and to odd numbers with actions performed by our left hand.

We are also faster, and more accurate, when categorising numbers as even compared to odd. And research has found children typically associate the word “even” with “right” and “odd” with “left”.

These studies suggest humans may have learnt biases and/or innate biases regarding odd and even numbers, which may have arisen either through evolution, cultural transmission, or a combination of both.

It isn’t obvious why parity might be important beyond its use in mathematics, so the origins of these biases remain unclear. Understanding if and how other animals can recognise (or can learn to recognise) odd and even numbers could tell us more about our own history with parity.

Training Bees To Learn Odd And Even

Studies have shown honeybees can learn to order quantities, perform simple addition and subtraction, match symbols with quantities and relate size and number concepts.

To teach bees a parity task, we separated individuals into two groups. One was trained to associate even numbers with sugar water and odd numbers with a bitter-tasting liquid (quinine). The other group was trained to associate odd numbers with sugar water, and even numbers with quinine.

Image shows a schematic of a honeybee being shown an array of odd vs. even quantities on a circular screen in three different trials.
Here we show a honeybee being trained to associate ‘even’ stimuli with a reward over 40 training choices. Scarlett Howard

We trained individual bees using comparisons of odd versus even numbers (with cards presenting 1-10 printed shapes) until they chose the correct answer with 80% accuracy.

Remarkably, the respective groups learnt at different rates. The bees trained to associate odd numbers with sugar water learnt quicker. Their learning bias towards odd numbers was the opposite of humans, who categorise even numbers more quickly.

Honeybee standing on a grey plexiglass paltform ridge drinking a clear liquid (sugar water).
Honeybees landed on a platform to drink sugar water during the experiment. Scarlett Howard

We then tested each bee on new numbers not shown during the training. Impressively, they categorised the new numbers of 11 or 12 elements as odd or even with an accuracy of about 70%.

Our results showed the miniature brains of honeybees were able to understand the concepts of odd and even. So a large and complex human brain consisting of 86 billion neurons, and a miniature insect brain with about 960,000 neurons, could both categorise numbers by parity.

Does this mean the parity task was less complex than we’d previously thought? To find the answer, we turned to bio-inspired technology.

We trained honeybees to choose even numbers. In this video we see the bee inspect each card on the screen, before making a correct choice on the card presenting an even number of 12 shapes.

Creating A Simple Artificial Neural Network

Artificial neural networks were one of the first learning algorithms developed for machine learning. Inspired by biological neurons, these networks are scalable and can tackle complex recognition and classification tasks using propositional logic.

We constructed a simple artificial neural network with just five neurons to perform a parity test. We gave the network signals between 0 and 40 pulses, which it classified as either odd or even. Despite its simplicity, the neural network correctly categorised the pulse numbers as odd or even with 100% accuracy.

This showed us that in principle parity categorisation does not require a large and complex brain such as a human’s. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the bees and the simple neural network used the same mechanism to solve the task.

Simple Or Complex?

We don’t yet know how the bees were able to perform the parity task. Explanations may include simple or complex processes. For example, the bees may have:

  1. paired elements to find an unpaired element

  2. performed division calculations – although division has not been previously demonstrated by bees

  3. counted each element and then applied the odd/even categorisation rule to the total quantity.

By teaching other animal species to discriminate between odd and even numbers, and perform other abstract mathematics, we can learn more about how maths and abstract thought emerged in humans.

Is discovering maths an inevitable consequence of intelligence? Or is maths somehow linked to the human brain? Are the differences between humans and other animals less than we previously thought? Perhaps we can glean these intellectual insights, if only we listen properly. The Conversation

Scarlett Howard, Lecturer, Monash UniversityAdrian Dyer, Associate Professor, RMIT UniversityAndrew Greentree, Professor of Quantum Physics and Australian Research Council Future Fellow, RMIT University, and Jair Garcia, Research fellow, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fern syrup, stewed eel and native currant jam: this 1843 recipe collection may be Australia’s earliest cookbook

View of the town of Parramatta from May’s Hill, ca. 1840. Painting attributed to G. E. Peacock. State Library New South Wales
Jacqueline NewlingUniversity of Sydney and Alison VincentCQUniversity Australia

A chance find in a colonial newspaper from 1843 has us very excited: have we discovered evidence of Australia’s earliest cookbook?

Until now The English and Australian Cookery Book: Cookery for the Many, as well as the Upper Ten Thousand by Tasmanian-born Edward Abbott, published in London in 1864, have been credited with this honour.

But when searching the National Library of Australia’s digital archive, our colleague Paul Van Reyk came across an advertisement in the December 30, 1843, Parramatta Chronicle and Cumberland General Advertiser for a cookbook none of us knew about: The Housewife’s Guide; or an Economical and Domestic Art of Cookery.

If this is indeed Australia’s earliest colonial cookbook, it would set the date back by 20 years.

The advertisement published December 1843. Trove

A British Recipe Book

The Housewife’s Guide was published by Edmund Mason, who also published the Parramatta Chronicle.

The son of printer William Mason of Clerkenwell, London, Edmund arrived in Sydney in 1840 to work at the Sydney Morning Herald. He was employed there for two years before setting up his own printing business in Parramatta.

The housewife's guide, or, An economical and domestic art of cookery
The title page of the original British version of the cook book. Wellcome Collection

No author’s name is provided in the 1843 advertisement for The Housewife’s Guide, but a book with the identical title, written by Mrs Deborah Irwin, “23 years cook to a tradesman with a large family”, had been published in England by Mason’s father in 1830.

At the time, Australia’s cookery texts were generally imported from Britain, but Mason asserted this Housewife’s Guide was “the only work of the kind published in the colony”.

Perhaps through his father’s connections, Mason was printing Mrs Irwin’s text in downtown Parramatta.

A locally reprinted text does not, to our minds, qualify as an Australian cookbook. But reading the list of contents given in Mason’s advertisement, “native currant jam” leapt off the page.

It is unlikely English Mrs Irwin would have had native currants in her repertoire.

Australian Ingredients

The 1830 edition of Mrs Irwin’s Housewife’s Guide has been digitised, allowing us to compare its contents more closely with the list provided in the Parramatta Chronicle. While there are clear similarities, with some sections possibly repeated verbatim, other significant differences convinced us this was a localised version of the original Irwin text.

Fish species common in Britain – sole, carp, haddock, grayling, trout, perch, tench and others – do not appear in the local listing. Varieties such as salmon, mackerel and eels, which are found in Australian waters, have been retained, and snapper has been added.

The original advertisement listed the book’s recipes, including for fish available in Australia at the time. Trove

Irwin’s Housewife’s Guide contains several recipes for game – hare, partridge, pheasant – none of which are listed in the Australian edition. Recipes for rabbits and pigeons, on the other hand, are found in both.

The Parramatta edition also has sections not included in Irwin’s book. A section on preserved meat provides instructions for salting and smoking mutton and ham.

A new section on syrups includes two which may have been incorporated for their local appeal: capillaire made from maiden hair fern – several species of which are native to Australia, and “Pine apply” (presumably pineapple) syrup. Highly exotic in Britain, pineapples were grown in colonial gardens and sold at produce markets.

Clearly this publication was not simply a reprint of Mrs Irwin’s text, but an upgraded, localised edition. It could also be the first formally published cookbook with recipes using native ingredients.

New Mysteries

In July 1844 the Chronicle advised “a second impression has been thrown off and is ready for publication”.

This new round of advertising at last provided an author’s name, promoting the book as Mrs Irving’s Housewife’s Guide. The uncanny similarity between Irving and Irwin was impossible to ignore. Had Mason misspelled the name by accident or by intent? Was there indeed a Mrs Irving?

The cookbook was reprinted in 1844. Trove

We have not identified a Mrs Irving in the colony at this time, and we are yet to find a physical copy of this early colonial cookbook. It does not appear in library catalogues and has not been referenced in any bibliography of Australian cookbooks.

It is quite probable that no copies have survived the 175-plus years since they were published.

We can confidently claim however, that Mrs Irving’s Housewife’s Guide published by Edmund Mason in Parramatta is the first locally produced Australian cookbook. The majority of recipes may have been British by nature and origin, but departures from the British text are clearly aimed at localising the book for produce available in colonial New South Wales.

Mrs Irving’s Housewife’s Guide indicates there was an appetite for local culinary knowledge, and the use of native ingredients – rather than relying on British authority – 20 years before Edward Abbott’s The English and Australian Cookery Book.The Conversation

Jacqueline Newling, Honorary Associate, History, University of Sydney and Alison Vincent, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Remaking history: using Ancient Egyptian techniques, I made delicious olive oil at home – and you can too

Hand Clutching an Olive Branch ca. 1353–1323 B.C. New Kingdom, Amarna Period. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Emlyn DoddMacquarie University

In this series, academics explain the ways they are recreating historical practices, and how this impacts their research today.

Olive oil was one of the major commodities in the ancient Mediterranean. Alongside wine, grain and perhaps also cheese in some regions, it enveloped and permeated Canaanite, Phoenician, Greek and Roman cultures, and was present in Egypt long before.

According to the Roman writer Pliny the Elder (1st century CE):

there are two liquids that are especially agreeable to the human body, wine inside and oil outside […] [the latter] being an absolute necessity.

Olive oil was used for a broad variety of purposes in antiquity: fuel for cooking, lighting and heating; personal hygiene; craft; and within the daily diet.

Large proportions of Greek, Roman and presumably Phoenician agricultural texts are devoted to the production of oil.

Authors like Columella, Palladius, Pliny and Cato the Elder, and the now-lost treatise of Mago the Carthaginian – the father of agriculture – debate what tools and equipment are needed, how and where to grow olive trees, what workers are required, and the array of olives and oils.

The detail within these texts is staggering. It extends to precise instructions for creating olive oil as well recipes for various types. Combined with surviving iconography and art that depicts these processes, as well as the archaeological remains of oileries and olive groves, we can attempt to reconstruct these ancient commodities.

This process is termed experimental archaeology. Experimental archaeology is often used to fill gaps in our knowledge and help us understand the practicalities of these production techniques – particularly for objects and processes that are rarely preserved.

This is particularly true for some types of oil presses, which were made almost entirely of organic materials and only survive in exceptional circumstances.

Recreating Ancient Egyptian Olive Oil

One of the earliest, if not the first, methods of pressing substances to produce a liquid such as wine or oil was by torsion.

This method involves filling a permeable bag with the crushed fruit, inserting sticks at either end of the bag before twisting them in opposite directions. This compresses the bag, and liquid filters out.

The torsion method is depicted on various Egyptian wall paintings, from the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. The earliest known example is in the tomb of Nebemakhet from around 2600–2500 BCE.

This method lasted millennia. There is evidence for the use of the torsion bag method from pre-industrial Venice, Spain and Corsica, and it is illustrated in early 20th century Italy.

Egyptian depictions of the torsion press have often been assumed to be related to wine production, but we wanted to know: could it also be effectively used to make olive oil?

A colourful Egyptian wall painting depicting two men twisting a bag to produce a liquid and another man filling clay jars with liquid
Wall painting depicting a torsion ‘bag’ press between two poles. People on either side twist the bag in opposite directions using sticks placed through loopholes. From inside the ca.1450 BCE tomb of Puyemre. Wikimedia Commons

With a lack of written and structural archaeological evidence – unlike the later Graeco-Roman eras – depictions on wall paintings and in relief are some of our only clues in Egypt.

Accompanied by basic olive crushing methods, known since the Neolithic era and still used until recently, we aimed to use these processes to test how effective they were and what quality of oil was achievable.

It is difficult to determine exactly what cloth was used in antiquity for the bag, so we decided to use a simple cheesecloth.

A mix of green and black olives, still used by traditional Italian producers today to create high quality extra-virgin oil, were harvested in the late Australian autumn season of mid-May.

Following ancient recommendations, they were washed before processing.

Before the torsion occurs, crushing is necessary to tear the flesh of the olive. This allows for the release of oils under pressure. We used a basic mortar and pestle – a technique documented archaeologically since around 5000 BCE.

This was hard work, particularly on the less ripe green olives.

Stones used to crush and press olives to make oil in the ruins of a building
A Roman mola olearia to crush olives at Kanytelis (ancient Cilicia, modern Turkey) Wikimedia Commons

It is not surprising that advances through the Classical and Hellenistic Greek eras were made, including larger rotary mortars, called trapeta (or later, the slightly different mola olearia), allowing greater quantities to be processed with ease.

After crushing, the pulp was placed in a cheesecloth sack and a variety of torsion methods were tested: twisting on both ends; anchoring one end and twisting the other; and first soaking the fruit in hot water to release oils before twisting.

People twist the end of a bag to produce a liquid, while another person adjusts the bag itself
Example of a single-end torsion ‘bag’ press in a fixed wooden frame. Wikimedia Commons

It was immediately noticeable that gentle pressure worked well, providing a slow but steady drip of liquid and minimising any solid materials being forced through the cloth. Multiple layers of cloth were required to prevent ripping, but this also made the filtration process slower and less permeable.

A Slow And Gentle Pressing

A compromise in the middle created the best results: a gentle, slow pressing, anchoring one end and twisting the other.

A glass with layers of different coloured liquids inside
One of the experimental olive oil batches settling. The oil and vegetable water (lees or amurca) layers are easily distinguishable. Emlyn Dodd

Some pressing methods separated the oil far quicker, with a fine yellow layer floating on the surface of the vegetable water in just minutes. Other methods did not separate even when left overnight and we were left with a thick brown mixture of vegetable water (the Roman amurca) and oils. Even Pliny noted “the very same olives can frequently give quite different results”.

The successful jars produced a delicious olive oil. Sharp, bitey and with hints of pepper – just like a nice fresh-pressed extra virgin oil.

Despite the fact that almost no archaeological evidence is known of actual olive oilry facilities in Pharaonic Egypt, with iconography providing the only real clues, this experiment clearly showed it is possible to press olives and produce oil using this frequently depicted method.

It is also an excellent (and relatively easy) method of making your own olive oil at home!The Conversation

Emlyn Dodd, Assistant Director of Archaeology, British School at Rome; Honorary Postdoctoral Fellow, Macquarie University; Research Affiliate, Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Regaining fitness after COVID infection can be hard. Here are 5 things to keep in mind before you start exercising again

Clarice TangWestern Sydney University

Are you finding it difficult to get moving after having COVID? You are not alone. Even if you have mild symptoms, you may still experience difficulty in regaining your fitness.

Building back up to exercise is important, but so is taking it slowly.

In general, most people can start to return to exercise or sporting activity after experiencing no symptoms for at least seven days. If you still have symptoms two weeks post-diagnosis, you should seek medical advice.

It’s normal for your body to feel fatigued while you are fighting a viral infection, as your body uses up more energy during this period. But it’s also very easy to lose muscle strength with bed rest. A study of older adults in ICU found they could lose up to 40% of muscle strength in the first week of immobility.

Weaker muscles not only negatively impact your physical function but also your organ function and immune system, which are vital in regaining your strength after COVID-19.

You might consider doing some very gentle exercises (such as repeated sit to stands for a minute, marching on the spot or some light stretches) to keep your joints and muscles moving while you have COVID, especially if you are older, overweight, or have underlying chronic diseases.

Five Things To Keep In Mind About Exercising After COVID

If you do feel you are ready to return to exercise and have not experienced any COVID-related symptoms for at least seven days, here are five things to remember when resuming exercise.

1)Adopt a phased return to physical activity. Even if you used to be a marathon runner, start at a very low intensity. Low intensity activities include walking, stretching, yoga and gentle strengthening exercises.

2)Strengthening exercises are just as important as cardio. Strength training can trigger the production of hormones and cells that boost your immune system. Bodyweight exercises are a great starting point if you do not have access to weights or resistance bands. Simple bodyweight exercises can include free squats, calf raises and push-ups.

3)Don’t over-exert. Use the perceived exertion scale to guide how hard you should be working. For a start, aim to only exercise at a perceived exertion rate of two or three out of ten, for 10-15 minutes. During exercise, continue to rate your perceived level of exertion and do not push past fatigue or pain during this early stage as it can set your recovery back.

4)Listen to your body. Only progress the intensity of your exercise and lengthen your exercise duration if you do not experience any new or returning symptoms after exercise, and if you have fully recovered from the previous day’s exercise. Do not over-exert. You may also need to consider having a rest day between exercise sessions to allow time for recovery.

5)Look out for worrying symptoms. If you experience chest pain, dizziness or difficulty with breathing during exercise, stop immediately. Seek urgent medical advice if symptoms persist after exercise. And if you experience increased fatigue after exercise, talk to your GP.

Man leaning on boxing bag to take a rest
If you experience pain or fatigue during exercise, don’t push through, stop. Shutterstock

Beware Post-Exertional Malaise

For most people, exercise will help you feel better after COVID-19 infection. But for some, exercise may actually make you feel worse by exacerbating your symptoms or bringing about new symptoms.

Post-exertional malaise can be experienced by people resuming exercise post-COVID infection. It occurs when an individual feels well at the start of the exercise but experiences severe fatigue immediately afterwards. In addition to fatigue, people with post-exertional malaise can also experience pain, emotional distress, anxiety and interrupted sleep after exercise.

If you believe you may have post-exertional malaise, you need to stop exercise immediately. Regular rest and spreading your activities throughout the day is needed to avoid triggering post-exertional malaise. Seek advice from your doctor or see a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist who can give you advice on how best to manage this condition.The Conversation

Clarice Tang, Senior lecturer in Physiotherapy, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How can more people be on unemployment benefits than before COVID, with fewer unemployed Australians? Here’s how

Peter WhitefordCrawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Bruce BradburyUNSW Sydney

So low is Australia’s unemployment rate, the official count says there are now just 580,300 people unemployed – the least since 2009, when Australia’s population was one-sixth smaller than it is today. Compared to just before the start of the pandemic, 184,800 fewer Australians are now unemployed.

Yet surprisingly, the number of Australians on unemployment benefits (now known as JobSeeker and Youth Allowance Other) remains higher than at any point before the pandemic, at 935,300. This is 49,100 more than before COVID.

The apparent paradox has some people questioning the unemployment figures, while others are asking whether there are people getting benefits who should not.

We think we have worked out a lot of what’s happened, and – to jump straight to one of our important findings – it isn’t the unemployment figures that are at fault.

You might be surprised to discover that many Australians who are unemployed are not on unemployment benefits.

Prior to COVID, the Parliamentary Library found only about 30% of unemployed Australians were on benefits. It used the Bureau of Statistics survey of income and housing to estimate the overlap between benefits and unemployment.

Even odder, many of the Australians on those benefits (paid to those with the “capacity to work now or in the near future”) are not unemployed as defined by the Bureau of Statistics and international statistical agencies.

Some are not seeking and not available for work. Others are in part-time work, able to get benefits because their employment income is low – but therefore not unemployed.

Unemployment And Benefits Used To Move Together

For most of the past 40 years, the number of people on unemployment benefits and the number unemployed have generally tracked each other, although since 1994 there have been more people on benefits than unemployed.

So what explains what’s happened since COVID?

One thing to note is that it is perfectly legal to receive unemployment benefits if you have a part-time job. In fact, Australian governments have been trying to encourage this since the 1980s.

The Bureau of Statistics and international statistical agencies define “employed” as at least one hour per week. Yet the Department of Social Services makes JobSeeker available to low-income Australians working casual and part-time.

Before COVID, in December 2019, about 140,000 people – 7% of those on benefits – were also working part-time.

Also in December 2019, 407,000 people (about half those receiving unemployment benefits) were classified as “non-jobseekers”.

“Non-jobseekers” can receive JobSeeker in a range of circumstances, including

  • undertaking approved full-time voluntary work or a combination of voluntary and part-time work

  • undertaking one or more other activities including training, education and self-employment development that are not job search

  • being temporarily ill or incapacitated

  • being a single principal carer (such as a single parent) granted an exemption from the requirement to search for work for reasons including foster care and home schooling

How many people there are in these situations now is hard to determine, not least because the Department of Social Services stopped publishing the number of “non-jobseekers” when the benefit started being called JobSeeker in early 2020.

It is likely that before COVID, in December 2019, around 267,000 people were both unemployed and receiving the main unemployment benefit. Given that 667,000 people were classified as unemployed at the time, this suggests that only around 40% of those classified as unemployed were receiving benefits.

Among those not receiving unemployment benefits would have been

  • people excluded by the partner income test (before COVID an unemployed person whose partner earned more than $925 per week was ineligible, making more than two-thirds of second earners ineligible)

  • sole traders who face more complex income-testing procedures intended to limit access to payments

  • people with $5,500 or more in available liquid assets, who have to wait between one and 13 weeks. If they find a job before then, they will have been counted as unemployed without receiving payments

  • seasonal workers excluded by preclusion periods applying to people who have earned more than average earnings in the six months before they claim. This applies to “fly-in, fly-out workers”, lobster and abalone fishermen, people working in arts and entertainment, and people doing relief work

  • people who lost their job facing a preclusion period because they were paid a lump sum that was intended to cover sick leave, annual leave, long service leave, a termination payment or a redundancy payment

  • newly arrived permanent residents in Australia for less than four years face a waiting period (NARWP). This was 26 weeks when imposed in 1993, then extended to 104 weeks in 1997 and 208 weeks in 2019

  • temporary foreign visa holders. Students, backpackers, skilled visa holders and many people from New Zealand are not eligible for benefits. In the last census, there were 104,700 temporary visa holders unemployed, making up 13.5% of all the unemployed people in Australia

  • people receiving other payments including parenting payment single, carers payment and the disability support pension. Our calculations suggest there were around 75,000 people unemployed but receiving one of these other payments in 2017-18, about 10% of the unemployed in that year.

Many Chose Not To Claim – And Then Came COVID

Not all people eligible for unemployment benefits claim them.

Among the reasons identified in international studies are lack of information, the level of benefits (some can be so low it is not seen as worth the effort) and stigma.

Since 2015, there has been considerable publicity given to a government program presented as recovering overpayments known as “Robodebt”. This might have discouraged people from claiming, at least until the widespread distribution of benefits during COVID.

And then came COVID. In just four months between March and July 2020, the number of unemployed people shot up 220,000, the number on unemployment benefits soared 735,000 and the number employed plunged 533,000.

During those months, the highly-publicised Coronavirus Supplement effectively doubled the size of unemployment benefits and removed much of the stigma associated with claiming them.

As well, many of the conditions that limited access to the benefits were temporarily suspended.

These included preclusion periods, making instantly eligible not only the people who lost their jobs, but also people already unemployed who had been ineligible.

Receiving benefits became easier and more normal, and also more worthwhile.

More People Have Stayed On Benefits

These more generous eligibility conditions were wound back between September and December 2020. While the number of recipients declined substantially, it remained and still remains well above the number unemployed.

We have calculated what we call “net coverage” of the JobSeeker and Youth Allowance (Other) unemployment benefits.

This excludes from the total people who the Bureau of Statistics would not define as unemployed (those with earnings from work, and those with only a partial capacity to work) and presents it as a proportion of the total unemployed.

It suggests that pre-COVID, only 44% to 52% of people the bureau counted as unemployed were on unemployment benefits.

As COVID payments peaked, this shot up to around 100% of all unemployed people being on benefits.

Even now, with special payments stopped, it remains higher than it was before COVID, at about 75%.

Put differently, on our (admittedly imperfect) measure, about one in four of Australia’s unemployed are not receiving benefits, whereas before COVID it was one in two.

The Missing Data We Still Need

What we do know is that the share of those on unemployment benefits with earnings has climbed from 17% to 21% since COVID, possibly as a result of greater take-up.

There are about 60,000 more people in part-time work and on payments than before COVID.

We also know that the number of people aged 65 years and over receiving JobSeeker has roughly tripled in the past three years (from a low base), with roughly 23,000 more people over 65 on JobSeeker.

In 2021 the age pension age rose from 66 years to 66 years and six months.

And we know that rules limiting the access of relatively highly paid seasonal workers to JobSeeker will have worked differently during COVID, as many will not have had the opportunity to work they had before.

This would be especially true for workers in arts and entertainment.

Also, people excluded by the residence waiting periods and temporary foreign workers are likely to form a lower share of the Australian population than before borders were closed.

But all of our explanations are tentative, since we don’t have the data to be definitive. We would know more if the Department of Social Services and the Australian Bureau of Statistics improved the quality of their data and the Department of Social Services made public more of the data it has.

But what we’ve uncovered suggests that the unusually high number of people on unemployment benefits is neither a sign that there are more people on benefits who don’t want to work than before, nor a sign that the official unemployment rate is less reliable than before.

Decisions made on the assumption that the unemployment rate is unreliable or that the nearly one million Australians on unemployment benefits don’t want to work would do us a disservice.The Conversation

Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Bruce Bradbury, Associate Professor, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From wolf to chihuahua: new research reveals where the dingo sits on the evolutionary timeline of dogs

Barry EggletonAuthor provided
Matt A. FieldJames Cook University and J. William O. BallardLa Trobe University

Many people know modern dogs evolved from the grey wolf. But did you know most of the more than 340 modern dog breeds we have today only emerged within the past 200 years?

Dogs were first domesticated during the Neolithic period between 29,000 and 14,000 years ago, and have been closely linked to humans ever since. Dingoes – the only native Australian dog – are thought to represent a unique event within canine evolution, having arrived in Australia 5,000–8,000 years ago.

Yet dingoes’ exact place in the evolutionary family tree of dogs has never been known. To find out where they branched away from grey wolves on their evolutionary journey, we used cutting-edge DNA sequencing technologies to discover that dingoes are fundamentally different from domestic dogs.

In research published today in Science Advances, in collaboration with 25 researchers from four countries, we show dingoes are an early offshoot of modern dogs situated between the grey wolf and the domesticated dogs of today. This work has potential implications for the health of all modern breed dogs.

Dog And Human History

By studying dogs we can gain insight into how we as humans have influenced their physical and behavioural traits, as well as observe changes in their genome.

For example, dogs only recently developed the ability to raise their eyebrows – a trait likely developed to communicate more effectively with humans. So it seems puppy dog eyes really were “created” just for us.

But some examples aren’t so obvious, and can only be found by looking deeper into dogs’ genomes.

For example, previous scientific studies have shown dogs require a particular gene (amylase 2B) to digest starch. Many dog breeds carry several duplicates of this gene (sometimes more than ten copies). However, the wolf and dingo only retain a single copy of this gene.

This duplication in modern dogs likely resulted from a change in diet for the earliest domesticated dogs, as they were increasingly fed starchy foods such as rice (cultivated through early widespread agriculture).

Interestingly, the same gene duplication has occurred independently in other recently domesticated livestock animals, which indicates how humans can affect the genomes of domesticated animals.

An Early Offshoot Of Modern Dogs

Dingoes are unique as they have been geographically isolated from wolves and domestic dogs for thousands of years. In our study, we used genetics to help us understand exactly where the dingo fits in the evolution of dogs, and what role it has in the Australian ecosystem.

Initially, in 2017, we only had access to a single dog genome as a point of comparison (a boxer breed). It contained many gaps, due to the limitations of the technology at the time.

However, that same year, the dingo won the “World’s Most Interesting Genome” competition held by US biotech company Pacific Biosciences. This got us thinking about generating a high-quality dingo genome.

But to understand the dingo’s place in dog history, we needed several high-quality dog genomes as well. So we generated a German shepherd genome as a representative breed, followed by the basenji (the earliest dog breed used for hunting in the Congo).

Finally, we were able to sequence the genome of a pure desert dingo puppy, Sandy, found abandoned in the outback (pictured at the top of this article).

The ability to generate high-quality genomes only became possible in the last few years, due to the development of long-read sequencing technology. This technology has also been crucial to the recently announced completion of the entire human genome.

Using our new dog genomes – along with existing genomes of the Greenland wolf and other representative species including the great Dane, boxer and Labrador – we measured the number of genetic differences between these breeds and the dingo to definitively show where the dingo fits in the evolutionary timeline.

We found dingoes are truly an early offshoot of all modern dog breeds, between the wolf and today’s domesticated dogs.

Two dingoes face towards camera, pictures from the shoulders up
Pure desert dingoes Sandy and Eggie at three years old. DNA from Sandy was used to generate the new dingo reference genome. Barry EggletonAuthor provided

Future Work

Collectively, our analysis shows how distinct demographic and environmental conditions have shaped the dingo genome. We can’t say for certain whether the dingo has ever been domesticated, but we do know it’s unlikely it was domesticated after its arrival in Australia.

Future work on more dingo genomes will address whether the dingo has ever been domesticated at all, and also measure the level and impact of pure dingo crossbreeding with domestic dogs. While many hybrid dingoes are similar in appearance, there has been substantial crossbreeding, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria.

This knowledge is important. A better understanding of the effect of dingoes cross breeding with dogs may provide insight into dingoes’ role in the ecosystem, and therefore help with future conservation efforts.

Also, knowledge about dingoes’ evolutionary history ultimately helps us understand how and when domestic dogs evolved alongside humans, and can help us identify and target new ways to improve their health and vitality.

Veterinary Applications

Through artificial selection, humans have been selectively crossbreeding dogs for desirable traits and characteristics for hundreds of years.

While this has created modern purebred lineages, it has also resulted in many breed-specific diseases. For example, Labradors and German shepherds are prone to hip dysplasia (improper joint fitting that leads to serious mobility issues over time), golden retrievers are prone to certain cancers, and jack terriers are susceptible to blindness.

Generating high-quality genomes for dingoes and wolves could help us determine the cause of these diseases by serving as a disease-free baseline or reference. These discoveries could lead to new targeted treatment options for breed dogs.The Conversation

Matt A. Field, Associate Professor - Bioinformatics, James Cook University and J. William O. Ballard, Professor and Head of Department, Environment and Genetics, SABE, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What will Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter mean for ‘free speech’ on the platform?

Eric Risberg/AP
John HawkinsUniversity of Canberra and Michael James WalshUniversity of Canberra

In a surprise capitulation, the board of Twitter has announced it will support a takeover bid by Elon Musk, the world’s richest person. But is it in the public interest?

Musk is offering US$54.20 a share. This values the company at US$44 billion (or A$61 billion) – making it one of the largest leveraged buyouts on record.

Morgan Stanley and other large financial institutions will lend him US$25.5 billion. Musk himself will put in around US$20 billion. This is about the size of a single bonus he is expected to receive from Tesla.

In a letter to the chair of Twitter, Musk claimed he would “unlock” Twitter’s “extraordinary potential” to be “the platform for free speech around the globe”.

But the idea that social media has the potential to represent an unbridled mode of public discourse is underpinned by an idealistic understanding that has surrounded social media technologies for some time.

In reality, Twitter being owned by one person, some of whose own tweets have been falsesexistmarket-moving and arguably defamatory poses a risk to the platform’s future.

Can Twitter Expect A Total Overhaul?

We see Musk’s latest move in a less-than-benign light, as it gives him unprecedented power and influence over Twitter. He has mused about making several potential changes to the platform, including:

  • reshuffling the current management, in which he says he doesn’t have confidence
  • adding an edit button on tweets
  • weakening the current content moderation approach - including through supporting temporary suspensions on users rather than outright bans, and
  • potentially moving to a “freemium” model similar to Spotify’s, whereby users can pay to avoid more intrusive advertisements.

Shortly after becoming Twitter’s largest individual shareholder earlier this month, Musk said “I don’t care about the economics at all”.

But the bankers who lent him US$25.5 billion to eventually acquire the platform probably do. Musk may come under pressure to lift Twitter’s profitability. He claims his top priority is free speech – but potential advertisers may not want their products featured next to an extremist rant.

In recent years, Twitter has implemented a range of governance and content moderation policies. For example, in 2020 it broadened its “definition of harm” to address COVID-19 content contradicting guidance from authoritative sources.

Twitter claims developments in its content moderation approach have been to “serve the public conversation” and address disinformation and misinformation. It also claims to respond to user experiences of abuse and general incivility users must navigate.

Taking a longer-term view, however, it seems Twitter’s bolstering of content moderation could be seen as an effort to save its reputation following extensive backlash.

Musk’s ‘Town Square’ Idea Doesn’t Hold Up

Regardless of Twitter’s motivations Musk has openly challenged the growing number of moderation tools employed by the platform.

He has even labelled Twitter a “de facto public square”. This statement appears naïve at best. As communications scholar and Microsoft researcher Tarleton Gillespie argues, the notion that social media platforms can operate as truly open spaces is fantasy, given how platforms must moderate content while also disavowing this process.

Gillespie goes on to suggest platforms are obliged to moderate, to protect users from their antagonists, to remove offensive, vile, or illegal content and to ensure they can present their best face to new users, advertisers, partners, and the public more generally. He says the critical challenge then “is exactly when, how, and why to intervene”.

Platforms such as Twitter can’t represent “town squares” – especially as, in Twitter’s case, only a small proportion of the town is using the service.

Public squares are implicitly and explicitly regulated through social behaviours associated with relations in public, backed by the capacity to defer to an authority to restore public order should disorder arise. In the case of a private business, which Twitter now is, the final say will largely default to Musk.

Even if Musk were to implement his own town square ideal, it would presumably be a particularly free-wheeling version.

Providing users with more leeway in what they can say might contribute to increased polarity and further coarsen discourse on the platform. But this would again discourage advertisers – which would be an issue under Twitter’s current economic model (wherein 90% of revenue comes from advertising).

Free Speech (But For All?)

Twitter is considerably smaller than other major social media networks. However, research has found it does have a disproportionate influence as tweets can proliferate with speed and virality, spilling over to traditional media.

The viewpoints users are exposed to are determined by algorithms geared towards maximising exposure and clicks, rather than enriching users’ lives with thoughtful or interesting points of view.

Musk has suggested he may make Twitter’s algorithms open source. This would be a welcome increase in transparency. But once Twitter becomes a private company, how transparent it is about operations will largely be up to Musk’s sole discretion.

Ironically, Musk has accused Meta (previously Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg of having too much control over public debate.

Yet Musk himself has a history of trying to stifle his critics’ points of view. There’s little to suggest his actions are truly to create an open and inclusive town square through Twitter — and less yet to suggest it will be in the public interest.The Conversation

John Hawkins, Senior Lecturer, Canberra School of Politics, Economics and Society and NATSEM, University of Canberra and Michael James Walsh, Associate Professor in Social Sciences, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Immersive VR: Empowering Kids To Survive In Fire, Flood, And War

April 26, 2022
When you live in the driest State in the driest country in the world, bushfires are an unfortunate, and all-too-regular part of life. Learning how to survive such emergencies is important for all people, but especially for our youngest citizens

Now, a new virtual reality (VR) experience developed by the University of South Australia is educating children about bushfires and helping them learn how to be safer in a bushfire incident.

Focusing on children aged 10-12 years, the new VR experience presents a scenario where children are tasked to look after a friend's dog just before a fire event begins to unfold. They participate in a series of problem-solving activities to help save and protect themselves and the dog.

Published in the Journal of Educational Computing, the research demonstrates how immersive VR experiences can deliver significant positive learning outcomes for primary children, independent of their gender, background knowledge or perceived ability to respond to bushfire hazards.

The findings showed that more than 80 per cent of children agreed or strongly agreed that they felt more confident to calmly evaluate the options and make wise decisions to protect themselves from a bushfire. This is especially significant considering that 91 per cent of participants originally lacked any knowledge of fires, and that 67 per cent had said that they were too young to make safety decisions in a fire.

The project was part of Safa Molan's PhD project. Her supervisor and fellow researcher, UniSA's Professor Delene Weber says immersive VR experiences have enormous potential to engage, educate and empower younger generations.

"VR has enormous potential to teach children about emergencies. As digital natives, they are engaged by technology, so when it's immersive -- as it is with VR -- they can experience events realistically, yet within safe parameters," Prof Weber says.

"Well-designed VR can provide an opportunity for children to apply newly acquired knowledge, reinforce their learnt concepts, and enable immediate feedback -- all incredibly valuable learning tools.

"In this scenario, we applied best practice in terms of VR and educational design, showing how VR can achieve higher order learning skills such as analysis and application of information to a new situation. And we tested the effectiveness on one of the most vulnerable groups -- children.

"Because children have fewer life experiences to build resilience, aren't as physically strong, and are less likely to have learned much about bushfire safety, they're often most at risk. Yet the capacity for children to contribute to bushfire safety at their household level should not be underestimated.

"Children do not need to be passive victims of disasters and with purpose-built virtual reality experiences such as these, we can help empower children to understand the risks but realise they can help."

Prof Weber says immersive VR technology could potentially be used for other disaster scenarios such as floods or war environments.

"Building resilience before a traumatic event occurs is invaluable, which is where VR can help," Prof Weber says.

"VR is empowering children to understand how their can control aspects within a disaster or can cope by themselves, and it helps them build their confidence so that they can contribute positively rather than being afraid.

"This technology could easily be applied to other disasters such as floods and wars -- which is particularly pertinent now with extreme floods still affecting New South Wales and Queensland, and the atrocities of war occurring in Ukraine.

"There is certainly no reason you wouldn't get the same positive results when focused on different traumatic events -- although the more predictable the processes are, the easier it would be for designers to create a relevant scenario."

Heading into school holidays, the CFS is currently warning families and young people to take care if considering a campfire, especially with dry grass and warm weather still lingering. And with teens often trusted to enjoy some independence alone, it's important that they pay attention.

In line with holiday trends, Prof Weber is also hoping to investigate VR education scenarios for teenagers and young adults.

"Building competencies and resilience in young people of all ages is vital for their ability to survive in disaster situations -- nothing in life is guaranteed, but we want to make sure that our children are given the very best chance."

Safa Molan, Delene Weber, Matin Kor. Shaping Children’s Knowledge and Response to Bushfire Through Use of an Immersive Virtual Learning Environment. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 2022; 073563312110545 DOI: 10.1177/07356331211054569

Physicists Embark On A Hunt For A Long-Sought Quantum Glow

April 26, 2022
For "Star Wars" fans, the streaking stars seen from the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon as it jumps to hyperspace is a canonical image. But what would a pilot actually see if she could accelerate in an instant through the vacuum of space? According to a prediction known as the Unruh effect, she would more likely see a warm glow.

Since the 1970s when it was first proposed, the Unruh effect has eluded detection, mainly because the probability of seeing the effect is infinitesimally small, requiring either enormous accelerations or vast amounts of observation time. But researchers at MIT and the University of Waterloo believe they have found a way to significantly increase the probability of observing the Unruh effect, which they detail in a study appearing in Physical Review Letters.

Rather than observe the effect spontaneously as others have attempted in the past, the team proposes stimulating the phenomenon, in a very particular way that enhances the Unruh effect while suppressing other competing effects. The researchers liken their idea to throwing an invisibility cloak over other conventional phenomena, which should then reveal the much less obvious Unruh effect.

If it can be realized in a practical experiment, this new stimulated approach, with an added layer of invisibility (or "acceleration-induced transparency," as described in the paper) could vastly increase the probability of observing the Unruh effect. Instead of waiting longer than the age of the universe for an accelerating particle to produce a warm glow as the Unruh effect predicts, the team's approach would shave that wait time down to a few hours.

"Now at least we know there is a chance in our lifetimes where we might actually see this effect," says study co-author Vivishek Sudhir, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, who is designing an experiment to catch the effect based on the group's theory. "It's a hard experiment, and there's no guarantee that we'd be able to do it, but this idea is our nearest hope."

The study's co-authors also include Barbara Šoda and Achim Kempf of the University of Waterloo.

Close connection
The Unruh effect is also known as the Fulling-Davies-Unruh effect, after the three physicists who initially proposed it. The prediction states that a body that is accelerating through a vacuum should in fact feel the presence of warm radiation purely as an effect of the body's acceleration. This effect has to do with quantum interactions between accelerated matter and quantum fluctuations within the vacuum of empty space.

To produce a glow warm enough for detectors to measure, a body such as an atom would have to accelerate to the speed of light in less than a millionth of a second. Such an acceleration would be equivalent to a g-force of a quadrillion meters per second squared (a fighter pilot typically experiences a g-force of 10 meters per second squared).

"To see this effect in a short amount of time, you'd have to have some incredible acceleration," Sudhir says. "If you instead had some reasonable acceleration, you'd have to wait a ginormous amount of time -- longer than the age of the universe -- to see a measurable effect."

What, then, would be the point? For one, he says that observing the Unruh effect would be a validation of fundamental quantum interactions between matter and light. And for another, the detection could represent a mirror of the Hawking effect -- a proposal by the physicist Stephen Hawking that predicts a similar thermal glow, or "Hawking radiation," from light and matter interactions in an extreme gravitational field, such as around a black hole.

"There's a close connection between the Hawking effect and the Unruh effect -- they're exactly the complementary effect of each other," says Sudhir, who adds that if one were to observe the Unruh effect, "one would have observed a mechanism that is common to both effects."

A transparent trajectory
The Unruh effect is predicted to occur spontaneously in a vacuum. According to quantum field theory, a vacuum is not simply empty space, but rather a field of restless quantum fluctuations, with each frequency band measuring about the size of half a photon. Unruh predicted that a body accelerating through a vacuum should amplify these fluctuations, in a way that produces a warm, thermal glow of particles.

In their study, the researchers introduced a new approach to increase the probability of the Unruh effect, by adding light to the entire scenario -- an approach known as stimulation.

"When you add photons into the field, you're adding 'n' times more of those fluctuations than this half a photon that's in the vacuum," Sudhir explains. "So, if you accelerate through this new state of the field, you'd expect to see effects that also scale 'n' times what you would see from just the vacuum alone."

However, in addition to the quantum Unruh effect, the additional photons would also amplify other effects in the vacuum -- a major drawback that has kept other hunters of the Unruh effect from taking the stimulation approach.

Šoda, Sudhir, and Kempf, however, found a work-around, through "acceleration-induced transparency," a concept they introduce in the paper. They showed theoretically that if a body such as an atom could be made to accelerate with a very specific trajectory through a field of photons, the atom would interact with the field in such a way that photons of a certain frequency would essentially appear invisible to the atom.

"When we stimulate the Unruh effect, at the same time we also stimulate the conventional, or resonant, effects, but we show that by engineering the trajectory of the particle, we can essentially turn off those effects," Šoda says.

By making all other effects transparent, the researchers could then have a better chance of measuring the photons, or the thermal radiation coming from only the Unruh effect, as the physicists predicted.

The researchers already have some ideas for how to design an experiment based on their hypothesis. They plan to build a laboratory-sized particle accelerator capable of accelerating an electron to close to the speed of light, which they would then stimulate using a laser beam at microwave wavelengths. They are looking for ways to engineer the electron's path to suppress classical effects, while amplifying the elusive Unruh effect.

"Now we have this mechanism that seems to statistically amplify this effect via stimulation," Sudhir says. "Given the 40-year history of this problem, we've now in theory fixed the biggest bottleneck."

This research was supported, in part, by the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Australian Research Council, and a Google Faculty Research Award.

Barbara Šoda, Vivishek Sudhir, Achim Kempf. Acceleration-Induced Effects in Stimulated Light-Matter Interactions. Physical Review Letters, 2022; 128 (16) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.128.163603

Discovery Sheds Light On Why The Pacific Islands Were Colonised

April 23, 2022
The discovery of pottery from the ancient Lapita culture by researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) has shed new light on how Papua New Guinea served as a launching pad for the colonisation of the Pacific -- one of the greatest migrations in human history.

The new study makes clear the initial expansion of the Lapita people throughout Papua New Guinea was far greater than previously thought.

The study, published in the Nature Ecology and Evolution journal, is based on the discovery of a distinctive Lapita pottery sherd, a broken piece of pottery with sharp edges, on Brooker Island in 2017 that lead researcher Dr Ben Shaw said was "like finding a needle in a haystack."

"Lapita cultural groups were the first people to reach the remote Pacific islands such as Vanuatu around 3,000 years ago. But in Papua New Guinea where people have lived for at least 50,000 years, the timing and extent of Lapita dispersals are poorly understood," Dr Shaw said.

"For a long time, it was thought Lapita groups avoided most of Papua New Guinea because people were already living there."

The study shows Lapita people introduced pottery to Papua New Guinea that had distinct markings, as well as new tool technologies and animals such as pigs.

"We found lots of Lapita pottery, a range of stone tools and evidence for shaping of obsidian [volcanic glass] into sharp blades," Dr Shaw said.

"As we dug deeper, we reached an even earlier cultural layer before the introduction of pottery. What amazed us was the amount of mammal bone we recovered, some of which could be positively identified as pig and dog. These animals were introduced to New Guinea by Lapita and were associated with the use of turtle shell to make tools."

Dr Shaw said the new discovery explains why the Lapita people colonised the Pacific islands 3,000 years ago and the role that Indigenous populations in New Guinea had in Lapita decisions to look for new islands to live on.

According to Dr Shaw, later Lapita dispersals through PNG and interaction with Indigenous populations profoundly influenced the region as a global centre of cultural and linguistic diversity.

"It is one of the greatest migrations in human history and finally we have evidence to help explain why the migration might have occurred and why it took place when it did," he said.

"We had no indication this would be a site of significance, and a lot of the time we were flying blind with the areas we surveyed and when looking for archaeological sites, so it is very much like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack."

The research involved many ANU researchers and international collaborators who showed how migration pathways and island-hopping strategies culminated in rapid and purposeful Pacific-wide settlement.

"A lot of our good fortune was because of the cultural knowledge, and we built a strong relationship with the locals based on honesty and transparency about our research on their traditional lands. Without their express permission, this kind of work would simply not be possible. The Brooker community is listed as the senior author on the paper to acknowledge their fundamental role in this research," Dr Shaw said.

Ben Shaw, Stuart Hawkins, Lorena Becerra-Valdivia, Chris S. M. Turney, Simon Coxe, Vincent Kewibu, Jemina Haro, Kenneth Miamba, Mathieu Leclerc, Matthew Spriggs, Karen Privat, Simon Haberle, Felicitas Hopf, Emily Hull, Alana Pengilley, Samantha Brown, Christopher E. Marjo, Geraldine Jacobsen, Lincoln Wesley, Robinson Nuabui, Starford Jubilee, Archy Losane Yapeth, Joe Norman, Paul, Munt, Steven Lincoln, Isaiah Stanley, Eyasi Sanibalath, Tau Jack, Benard Isei, David Vilan, Robert Lincoln, Lincoln Inosi, Sima Lahaga, Wesley Lincoln, Tom Eliuda, Ernest Mark, Able Moimoi, Lemeki Isaia, Felix Jack, Heke Jack, George Sadiba, Solomon Ruben, Weda Gaunedi, John Sakiusa, Leon, Joseph Betuel, Kingsley, Ishmael, Edwin, Harry, G. Oscar, Joel, Jeremiah, Jimmy, Jerry, Roger, Joseph Nua, Lemeki, Nason, Thomas, Yadila. Frontier Lapita interaction with resident Papuan populations set the stage for initial peopling of the Pacific. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-022-01735-w

Researchers Develop A Paper-Thin Loudspeaker

April 26, 2022
MIT engineers have developed a paper-thin loudspeaker that can turn any surface into an active audio source. This thin-film loudspeaker produces sound with minimal distortion while using a fraction of the energy required by a traditional loudspeaker. The hand-sized loudspeaker the team demonstrated, which weighs about as much as a dime, can generate high-quality sound no matter what surface the film is bonded to.

To achieve these properties, the researchers pioneered a deceptively simple fabrication technique, which requires only three basic steps and can be scaled up to produce ultrathin loudspeakers large enough to cover the inside of an automobile or to wallpaper a room.

Used this way, the thin-film loudspeaker could provide active noise cancellation in clamorous environments, such as an airplane cockpit, by generating sound of the same amplitude but opposite phase; the two sounds cancel each other out. The flexible device could also be used for immersive entertainment, perhaps by providing three-dimensional audio in a theatre or theme park ride. And because it is lightweight and requires such a small amount of power to operate, the device is well-suited for applications on smart devices where battery life is limited.

"It feels remarkable to take what looks like a slender sheet of paper, attach two clips to it, plug it into the headphone port of your computer, and start hearing sounds emanating from it. It can be used anywhere. One just needs a smidgeon of electrical power to run it," says Vladimir Bulović, the Fariborz Maseeh Chair in Emerging Technology, leader of the Organic and Nanostructured Electronics Laboratory (ONE Lab), director of MIT.nano, and senior author of the paper.

Bulović wrote the paper with lead author Jinchi Han, a ONE Lab postdoc, and co-senior author Jeffrey Lang, the Vitesse Professor of Electrical Engineering. The research is published today in IEEE Transactions of Industrial Electronics.

A new approach
A typical loudspeaker found in headphones or an audio system uses electric current inputs that pass through a coil of wire that generates a magnetic field, which moves a speaker membrane, that moves the air above it, that makes the sound we hear. By contrast, the new loudspeaker simplifies the speaker design by using a thin film of a shaped piezoelectric material that moves when voltage is applied over it, which moves the air above it and generates sound.

Most thin-film loudspeakers are designed to be freestanding because the film must bend freely to produce sound. Mounting these loudspeakers onto a surface would impede the vibration and hamper their ability to generate sound.

To overcome this problem, the MIT team rethought the design of a thin-film loudspeaker. Rather than having the entire material vibrate, their design relies on tiny domes on a thin layer of piezoelectric material which each vibrate individually. These domes, each only a few hair-widths across, are surrounded by spacer layers on the top and bottom of the film that protect them from the mounting surface while still enabling them to vibrate freely. The same spacer layers protect the domes from abrasion and impact during day-to-day handling, enhancing the loudspeaker's durability.

To build the loudspeaker, the researchers used a laser to cut tiny holes into a thin sheet of PET, which is a type of lightweight plastic. They laminated the underside of that perforated PET layer with a very thin film (as thin as 8 microns) of piezoelectric material, called PVDF. Then they applied vacuum above the bonded sheets and a heat source, at 80 degrees Celsius, underneath them.

Because the PVDF layer is so thin, the pressure difference created by the vacuum and heat source caused it to bulge. The PVDF can't force its way through the PET layer, so tiny domes protrude in areas where they aren't blocked by PET. These protrusions self-align with the holes in the PET layer. The researchers then laminate the other side of the PVDF with another PET layer to act as a spacer between the domes and the bonding surface.

"This is a very simple, straightforward process. It would allow us to produce these loudspeakers in a high-throughput fashion if we integrate it with a roll-to-roll process in the future. That means it could be fabricated in large amounts, like wallpaper to cover walls, cars, or aircraft interiors," Han says.

High quality, low power
The domes are 15 microns in height, about one-sixth the thickness of a human hair, and they only move up and down about half a micron when they vibrate. Each dome is a single sound-generation unit, so it takes thousands of these tiny domes vibrating together to produce audible sound.

An added benefit of the team's simple fabrication process is its tunability -- the researchers can change the size of the holes in the PET to control the size of the domes. Domes with a larger radius displace more air and produce more sound, but larger domes also have lower resonance frequency. Resonance frequency is the frequency at which the device operates most efficiently, and lower resonance frequency leads to audio distortion.

Once the researchers perfected the fabrication technique, they tested several different dome sizes and piezoelectric layer thicknesses to arrive at an optimal combination.

They tested their thin-film loudspeaker by mounting it to a wall 30 centimetres from a microphone to measure the sound pressure level, recorded in decibels. When 25 volts of electricity were passed through the device at 1 kilohertz (a rate of 1,000 cycles per second), the speaker produced high-quality sound at conversational levels of 66 decibels. At 10 kilohertz, the sound pressure level increased to 86 decibels, about the same volume level as city traffic.

The energy-efficient device only requires about 100 milliwatts of power per square meter of speaker area. By contrast, an average home speaker might consume more than 1 watt of power to generate similar sound pressure at a comparable distance.

Because the tiny domes are vibrating, rather than the entire film, the loudspeaker has a high enough resonance frequency that it can be used effectively for ultrasound applications, like imaging, Han explains. Ultrasound imaging uses very high frequency sound waves to produce images, and higher frequencies yield better image resolution.

The device could also use ultrasound to detect where a human is standing in a room, just like bats do using echolocation, and then shape the sound waves to follow the person as they move, Bulović says. If the vibrating domes of the thin film are covered with a reflective surface, they could be used to create patterns of light for future display technologies. If immersed in a liquid, the vibrating membranes could provide a novel method of stirring chemicals, enabling chemical processing techniques that could use less energy than large batch processing methods.

"We have the ability to precisely generate mechanical motion of air by activating a physical surface that is scalable. The options of how to use this technology are limitless," Bulović says.

This work is funded, in part, by the research grant from the Ford Motor Company and a gift from Lendlease, Inc.

Jinchi Han, Jeffrey Lang, Vladimir Bulovic. An Ultra-Thin Flexible Loudspeaker Based on a Piezoelectric Micro-Dome Array. IEEE Transactions on Industrial Electronics, 2022; 1 DOI: 10.1109/TIE.2022.3150082

Gastrointestinal Issues Linked With Anxiety, Social Withdrawal For Kids With Autism

April 26, 2022
Children with autism spectrum disorder tend to experience gastrointestinal issues, such as constipation and stomach pain, at a higher rate than their neurotypical peers. Some also experience other internalizing symptoms at the same time, including stress, anxiety, depression and social withdrawal. Until now, no studies have examined the causal relationship between gastrointestinal symptoms and internalizing symptoms.

A new study at the University of Missouri found a "bi-directional" relationship between gastrointestinal issues and internalized symptoms in children and adolescents with autism -- meaning the symptoms seem to be impacting each other simultaneously. The findings could influence future precision medicine research aimed at developing personalized treatments to ease pain for individuals with autism experiencing gastrointestinal issues.

"Research has shown gastrointestinal issues are associated with an increased stress response as well as aggression and irritability in some children with autism," said Brad Ferguson, an assistant research professor in the MU School of Health Professions, Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Department of Radiology in the MU School of Medicine. "This likely happens because some kids with autism are unable to verbally communicate their gastrointestinal discomfort as well as how they feel in general, which can be extremely frustrating. The goal of our research is to find out what factors are associated with gastrointestinal problems in individuals with autism so we can design treatments to help these individuals feel better."

In the study, Ferguson and his team analyzed health data from more than 620 patients with autism at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders under the age of 18 who experience gastrointestinal issues. Then, the team examined the relationship between the gastrointestinal issues and internalized symptoms, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. Ferguson explained the findings provide more evidence on the importance of the "gut-brain axis," or connection between the brain and the digestive tract, in gastrointestinal disorders in individuals with autism.

"Stress signals from the brain can alter the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine in the gut which control gastrointestinal motility, or the movement of stool through the intestines. Stress also impacts the balance of bacteria living in the gut, called the microbiota, which can alter gastrointestinal functioning," Ferguson said. "The gut then sends signals back to the brain, and that can, in turn, lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and social withdrawal. The cycle then repeats, so novel treatments addressing signals from both the brain and the gut may provide the most benefit for some kids with gastrointestinal disorders and autism."

Ferguson said an interdisciplinary team of specialists is needed to help solve this complex problem and develop treatments going forward.

Ferguson collaborates with David Beversdorf, a neurologist at the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, who also studies gastrointestinal problems in individuals with autism. In a recent study, Beversdorf, who also has appointments in the MU College of Arts and Science and MU School of Medicine, helped identify specific RNA biomarkers linked with gastrointestinal issues in children with autism.

"Interestingly, the study from Beversdorf and colleagues found relationships between microRNA that are related to anxiety behavior following prolonged stress as well as depression and gastrointestinal disturbance, providing some converging evidence with our behavioral findings," Ferguson said.

Now, Ferguson and Beversdorf are working together to determine the effects of a stress-reducing medication on gastrointestinal issues in a clinical trial.

"I have a great relationship with Beversdorf and the MU Thompson Center Autism Research Core (ARC) that allows our team to quickly go from findings in the laboratory to clinical trials," Ferguson said.

Ferguson explained that some treatments may work for some individuals with autism but not necessarily for others.

"Our team uses a biomarker-based approach to find what markers in the body are common in those who respond favorably to certain treatments," Ferguson said. "Our goal is to eventually develop a quick test that tells us which treatment is likely to work for which subgroups of patients based on their unique biomarker signature, including markers of stress, composition of gut bacteria, genetics, co-occurring psychological disorders, or a combination thereof. This way, we can provide the right treatments to the right patients at the right time."

"Bidirectional relationship between internalizing symptoms and gastrointestinal problems in youth with autism spectrum disorder" was recently published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Ferguson also collaborated with Kristen Dovgan, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Marist College, and Kyra Gynegrowski, an undergraduate student in the Department of Psychology at Marist College. Funding for the study was provided by the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, which is now known as the Autism Care Network.

Kristen Dovgan, Kyra Gynegrowski, Bradley J. Ferguson. Bidirectional relationship between internalizing symptoms and gastrointestinal problems in youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2022; DOI: 10.1007/s10803-022-05539-6

AI May Detect Earliest Signs Of Pancreatic Cancer

April 26, 2022
An artificial intelligence (AI) tool developed by Cedars-Sinai investigators accurately predicted who would develop pancreatic cancer based on what their CT scan images looked like years prior to being diagnosed with the disease. The findings, which may help prevent death through early detection of one of the most challenging cancers to treat, are published in the journal Cancer Biomarkers.

"This AI tool was able to capture and quantify very subtle, early signs of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma in CT scans years before occurrence of the disease. These are signs that the human eye would never be able to discern," said Debiao Li, PhD, director of the Biomedical Imaging Research Institute, professor of Biomedical Sciences and Imaging at Cedars-Sinai, and senior and corresponding author of the study. Li is also the Karl Storz Chair in Minimally Invasive Surgery in Honor of George Berci, MD.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is not only the most common type of pancreatic cancer, but it's also the most deadly. Less than 10% of people diagnosed with the disease live more than five years after being diagnosed or starting treatment. But recent studies have reported that finding the cancer early can increase survival rates by as much as 50%. There currently is no easy way to find pancreatic cancer early, however.

People with this type of cancer may experience symptoms such as general abdominal pain or unexplained weight loss, but these symptoms are often ignored or overlooked as signs of the cancer since they are common in many health conditions.

"There are no unique symptoms that can provide an early diagnosis forpancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma," said Stephen J. Pandol, MD, director of Basic and Translational Pancreas Research and program director of the Gastroenterology Fellowship Program at Cedars-Sinai, and another author of the study. "This AI tool may eventually be used to detect early disease in people undergoing CT scans for abdominal pain or other issues."

The investigators reviewed electronic medical records to identify people who were diagnosed with the cancer within the last 15 years and who underwent CT scans six months to three years prior to their diagnosis. These CT images were considered normal at the time they were taken. The team identified 36 patients who met these criteria, the majority of whom had CT scans done in the ER because of abdominal pain.

The AI tool was trained to analyze these pre-diagnostic CT images from people with pancreatic cancer and compare them with CT images from 36 people who didn't develop the cancer. The investigators reported that the model was 86% accurate in identifying people who would eventually be found to have pancreatic cancer and those who would not develop the cancer.

The AI model picked up on variations on the surface of the pancreas between people with cancer and healthy controls. These textural differences could be the result of molecular changes that occur during the development of pancreatic cancer.

"Our hope is this tool could catch the cancer early enough to make it possible for more people to have their tumor completely removed through surgery," said Touseef Ahmad Qureshi, PhD, a scientist at Cedars-Sinai and first author of the study.

The investigators are currently collecting data from thousands of patients at healthcare sites throughout the U.S. to continue to study the AI tool's prediction capability.

Funding: The study was funded by the Board of Counsellors of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health under award number R01 CA260955.

Touseef Ahmad Qureshi, Srinivas Gaddam, Ashley Max Wachsman, Lixia Wang, Linda Azab, Vahid Asadpour, Wansu Chen, Yibin Xie, Bechien Wu, Stephen Jacob Pandol, Debiao Li. Predicting pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma using artificial intelligence analysis of pre-diagnostic computed tomography images. Cancer Biomarkers, 2022; 33 (2): 211 DOI: 10.3233/CBM-210273

Existing Infrastructure Will Be Unable To Support Future Demand For High-Speed Internet

April 26, 2022
Researchers have shown that the UK's existing copper network cables can support faster internet speeds, but only to a limit. They say additional investment is urgently needed if the government is serious about its commitment to making high-speed internet available to all.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge and BT, have established the maximum speed at which data can be transmitted through existing copper cables. This limit would allow for faster internet compared to the speeds currently achievable using standard infrastructure, however it will not be able to support high-speed internet in the longer term.

The team found that the 'twisted pair' copper cables that reach every house and business in the UK are physically limited in their ability to support higher frequencies, which in turn support higher data rates.

While full-fibre internet is currently available to around one in four households, it is expected to take at least two decades before it reaches every home in the UK. In the meantime, however, existing infrastructure can be improved to temporarily support high-speed internet.

The results, reported in the journal Nature Communications, both establish a physical limit on the UK's ubiquitous copper cables, and emphasise the importance of immediate investment in future technologies.

The Cambridge-led team used a combination of computer modelling and experiments to determine whether it was possible to get higher speeds out of existing copper infrastructure and found that it can carry a maximum frequency of about 5 GHz, above the currently used spectrum, which is lower than 1 GHz. Above 5 GHz however, the copper cables start to behave like antennas.

Using this extra bandwidth can push data rates on the copper cables above several Gigabits per second on short ranges, while fibre cables can carry hundreds of Terabits per second or more.

"Any investment in existing copper infrastructure would only be an interim solution," said co-author Dr Anas Al Rawi from Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory. "Our findings show that eventual migration to optical fibre is inevitable."

The twisted pair- where two conductors are twisted together to improve immunity against noise and to reduce electromagnetic radiation and interference -- was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1881. Twisted pair cables replaced grounded lines by the end of the 19th century and have been highly reliable ever since. Today, twisted pair cables are standardised to carry 424 MHz bandwidth over shorter cable lengths owing to deeper fibre penetration and advancement in digital signal processing.

These cables are now reaching the end of their life as they cannot compete with the speed of fibre-optic cables, but it's not possible to get rid of all the copper cables due to fibre's high cost. The fibre network is continuously getting closer to users, but the connection between the fibre network and houses will continue to rely on the existing copper infrastructure. Therefore, it is vital to invest in technologies that can support the fibre networks on the last mile to make the best use of them.

"High-speed internet is a necessity of 21st century life," said first author Dr Ergin Dinc, who carried out the research while he was based at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory. "Internet service providers have been switching existing copper wires to high-speed fibre-optic cables, but it will take between 15 and 20 years for these to reach every house in the UK and will cost billions of pounds. While this change is happening, we've shown that existing copper infrastructure can support higher speeds as an intermediate solution."

The Cambridge researchers, working with industry collaborators, have been investigating whether it's possible to squeeze faster internet speeds out of existing infrastructure as a potential stopgap measure, particularly for rural and remote areas.

"No one had really looked into the physical limitations driving the maximum internet speed for twisted pair cables before," said Dinc. "If we used these cables in a different way, would it be possible to get them to carry data at higher speeds?"

Using a mix of theoretical modelling and experimentation, the researchers found that twisted pair cables are limited in the frequency they can carry, a limit that's defined by the geometry of the cable. Above this limit, around 5 GHz, the twisted pair cables start to radiate and behave like an antenna.

"The way that the cables are twisted together defines how high a frequency they can carry," said Dr Eloy de Lera Acedo, also from the Cavendish, who led the research. "To enable higher data rates, we'd need the cables to carry a higher frequency, but this can't happen indefinitely because of physical limitations. We can improve speeds a little bit, but not nearly enough to be future-proof."

The researchers say their results underline just how important it is that government and industry work together to build the UK's future digital infrastructure, since existing infrastructure can handle higher data rates in the near future, while the move to a future-proof full-fibre network continues.

The work is part of an ongoing collaboration between the Cavendish, the Department of Engineering, BT and Huawei in a project led by Professor Mike Payne, also of the Cavendish Laboratory. The research was also supported by the Royal Society, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.

Ergin Dinc, Syed Sheheryar Bukhari, Anas Al Rawi, Eloy de Lera Acedo. Investigating the upper bound of high-frequency electromagnetic waves on unshielded twisted copper pairs. Nature Communications, 2022; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-29631-8

Meat Consumption Must Fall By At Least 75 Percent

April 25, 2022
If our planet Earth is to continue feeding us in the future, rich countries must significantly reduce their meat consumption -- ideally by at least 75 percent. This is the conclusion of a new study by the University of Bonn. The study reviews the current state of research on various aspects of meat consumption. In addition to the effects on the environment and climate, these include health and economic effects. A conclusion of the researchers: Eating meat in small amounts can be quite sustainable. The results are published in the journal Annual Review of Resource Economics.

Every EU citizen consumes around 80 kilograms of meat per year. But every juicy steak, every delicious sausage has a price that we do not pay at the counter, because livestock farming damages the climate and the environment. Ruminants for instance produce methane, which accelerates global warming. Animals also convert only a portion of the calories they are fed into meat. In order to feed the same number of people, meat therefore requires a much larger land area. This is to the detriment of ecosystems, as less space is left for natural species conservation. Furthermore, those eating too much meat live risky -- meat in excess is not healthy and can promote chronic diseases.

So there are good reasons for significantly reducing consumption of animal-based foods. "If all humans consumed as much meat as Europeans or North Americans, we would certainly miss the international climate targets and many ecosystems would collapse," explains study author Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim of the Center for Development Research (ZEF) at the University of Bonn. "We therefore need to significantly reduce our meat consumption, ideally to 20 kilograms or less annually. The war in Ukraine and the resulting shortages in international markets for cereal grains also underline that less grain should be fed to animals in order to support food security." At present, around half of all grains produced worldwide are used as animal feed, Qaim said.

Mass vegetarianism is not the best solution
Would it not be better for humankind to switch completely to vegetarian or, even better, vegan diets? According to the study, this would be the wrong consequence. On the one hand, there are many regions where plant-based foods cannot be grown. "We can't live on grass, but ruminants can," clarifies Qaim's colleague and co-author Dr. Martin Parlasca. "Therefore, if grassland cannot be used in any other way, it makes perfect sense to keep livestock on it." From an environmental point of view, there is also no real objection to careful grazing with a limited number of animals.

Poorer regions in particular also lack plant sources of high-quality proteins and micronutrients. For instance, vegetables and legumes cannot be grown everywhere and, moreover, can be harvested only at certain times of the year. "In such cases, animals are often a key element of a healthy diet," Parlasca points out. "For many people, they are also an important source of income. If the revenue from milk, eggs and meat is lost, this can threaten their livelihoods." In any case, the poorer countries are not the problem, the authors point out. For their inhabitants, meat is usually much less frequently on the menu than in industrialized nations. This means that the rich countries in particular must reduce their meat consumption.

Tax on meat products makes sense
At the moment, there is little sign of this. Although there are more vegetarians than before, aggregate meat consumption is stagnating across Europe. However, it is highest in North America and Australia. Qaim believes it is important to also consider higher taxes on animal-based foods. "That's certainly unpopular, especially since a ten- or twenty-percent surcharge probably wouldn't be enough, if it's supposed to have a steering effect," he says. "Meat, however, has a high environmental cost that is not reflected in current prices. It would be entirely reasonable and fair to have consumers share more of these costs."

The authors also call for the topic of "sustainable consumption" to be increasingly integrated into school curricula. These contents should also be better included into the training of future teachers. "We need to become more sensitive to the global impact of our decisions," emphasizes Qaim, who is also a member of the PhenoRob Cluster of Excellence and (like his colleague Martin Parlasca) of the Transdisciplinary Research Area (TRA) "Sustainable Futures" at the University of Bonn. "This is true not only with food, but also with the shirt we buy at the discount store to wear for a single evening at a party."

Martin C. Parlasca, Matin Qaim. Meat Consumption and Sustainability. Annual Review of Resource Economics, 2022; 14 (1) DOI: 10.1146/annurev-resource-111820-032340

When It Comes To Preventing Alzheimer's Women Respond Better Than Men

April 26, 2022
After increasing age, the most significant risk factor for Alzheimer's disease (AD) is sex -- two-thirds of patients with AD are females. In fact, even when accounting for gender-dependent mortality rates, age at death, and differences in lifespan, women still have twice the risk of incidence.

A study headed by Florida Atlantic University's Richard S. Isaacson, M.D., a leading neurologist and researcher, and collaborators from NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine, is the first to examine if sex significantly affects cognitive outcomes in people who follow individually-tailored, multi-domain clinical interventions. The study also determined whether change in risk of developing cardiovascular disease and AD, along with blood markers of AD risk, also were affected by sex. Other studies have focused on the role of hormones and sex-specific risk factors when examining differences in AD risk, but none have explored if these interventions result in differences in real-world clinical practice.

The study is an analysis of the Comparative Effectiveness Dementia & Alzheimer's Registry (CEDAR) trial launched at Weill Medicine in 2015 and spearheaded by Isaacson, which has already demonstrated that individualized, multi-domain interventions improved cognition and reduced the risk of AD in both women and men.

In the sub-group analysis, researchers evaluated the differential effectiveness of the clinical approach itself when considering sex in higher-compliance participants (n=80) from the original study cohort (n=154). Within this cohort, similar to the original study, participants were categorized by baseline diagnoses: normal cognition, subjective cognitive decline, and preclinical AD participants were classified as "Prevention." Mild cognitive impairment due to AD and mild AD were classified as "Early Treatment."

Results of the study, published in the Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease, showed that risk reduction care in an Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic setting led to improvements in cognition in both women and men without sex-differences. However, in the Prevention group, women demonstrated greater improvements in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis risk score (MESA) than men. Women in the Early Treatment group also demonstrated greater improvements in CV Risk Factors, Aging and Incidence of Dementia (CAIDE) risk score and the MESA-RS. The CAIDE is a validated risk index that calculates late-life dementia risk based on midlife vascular risk factors such as body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol and smoking status, while the MESA estimates one's risk of cardiovascular disease incidence over the next ten years using traditional risk factors.

"While care in an Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic setting is equally effective at improving cognitive function in both women and men, our personally-tailored interventions led to greater improvements in women compared to men across Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease risk scales, as well blood biomarkers of risk such as blood sugar, LDL cholesterol, and the diabetes test HbA1C," said Isaacson, lead author and director of the newly launched FAU Center for Brain Health and the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic within the Schmidt College of Medicine, who conducted the study while at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian. "Our findings are important because women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer's disease and population-attributable risk models suggest that managing risk factors can prevent up to one-third of dementia cases, highlighting the immense potential that lies in addressing modifiable risk factors."

After undergoing baseline clinical assessments, which included a detailed clinical history, physical examination, anthropometrics, blood biomarkers, apolipoprotein-?4 (APOE-e4) genotyping, and cognitive assessment, patients in the CEDAR study were given individually-tailored, multi-domain intervention recommendations informed by these clinical and biomarker data. Recommendation categories included patient education/genetic counseling, individualized pharmacological approaches (medications/vitamins/supplements), non-pharmacological approaches (exercise counseling, dietary counseling, vascular risk reduction, sleep hygiene, cognitive engagement, stress reduction, and general medical care) and other evidence-based interventions.

"Our latest results suggest that the individualized management approach used by the CEDAR study in a real-world clinic may offer equal cognitive benefits to both women and men, as well as better mitigation of calculated Alzheimer's disease and cardiovascular disease risk in women compared to men," said Isaacson. "Our work also highlights the need for larger studies focusing on sex differences in AD-related cognitive trajectories, as the existing body of knowledge lacks conclusive evidence on this issue."

Isaacson and collaborators are planning on larger cohorts to further define sex differences in AD risk reduction in clinical practice and hope to launch a multi-site international study soon to draw more definitive conclusions.

Collaborators of the study include FAU's Schmidt College of Medicine; Cleveland Clinic; Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Las Vegas; Jersey Memory Assessment Service, Jersey, United Kingdom; Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic & Research Center of Puerto Rico, San Juan; Weill Cornell Medicine & NewYork-Presbyterian; New York; Norton Neuroscience Institute, Louisville; McGill University Faculty of Medicine, Montreal, Canada; University of New South Wales/University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia; and Atria Institute, New York.

N. Saif, H. Hristov, K. Akiyoshi, K. Niotis, I.E. Ariza, N. Malviya, P. Lee, J. Melendez, G. Sadek, K. Hackett, A. Rahman, J. Meléndez-Cabrero, C.E. Greer, L. Mosconi, R. Krikorian, R.S. Isaacson. Sex-Driven Differences in the Effectiveness of Individualized Clinical Management of Alzheimer’s Disease Risk. The Journal Of Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease, 2022; DOI: 10.14283/jpad.2022.44

Crossing Barriers: How The Rabbit Virus Myxoma Leapt Into A New Species

April 26, 2022
Viruses are among the most protean entities in nature, ceaselessly mutating and acquiring new characteristics. These tiny entities follow a simple and relentless imperative: infect as many host organisms as possible. Occasionally, a virus' genomic alterations enable it to leap from one species to another, in a process known as 'spillover'.

In new research appearing in the journal mBio, Masmudur Rahman and his Arizona State University colleagues join international researchers to investigate one such spillover event, when the myxoma virus (MYXV) made a species leap from European rabbits to Iberian hares.

The study describes M159, a virus protein called a "host range factor" that arose very recently through a fortuitous gene pickup in the myxoma virus. The resultant hybrid strain, known as MYXV-Tol, has enabled the virus to expand its existing host range, traversing the species barrier and causing lethal disease in Iberian hares.

Researchers would like to better understand these genomic transitions, as spillover events have profound implications for both human and animal health. One such recent event, caused by mutations in a novel, SARS-like virus of unknown origin, is responsible for the global pandemic of COVID-19 disease, which has killed over five million people globally.

Understanding the subtle alterations enabling viruses to make species jumps may help better prepare for outbreaks of new diseases, limit their transmission, and perhaps allow researchers to outwit viral mechanisms that set the stage for spillover events. Human-engineered therapies against pathogens (including viruses) are part of a never-ending arms race between infectious agents and their host organisms.

In addition to its importance for the study of host- pathogen coevolution, myxoma virus has been investigated for its remarkable ability to target and kill human cancer cells, while leaving their normal healthy cell counterparts unharmed. It is one of the most promising viruses available in the new field of virotherapy, which uses cancer fighting or oncolytic viruses, including myxoma.

The new study suggests that the M159 protein not only enables MYXV-Tol to leap over the species barrier and infect hares but also appears to help this strain replicate even better in human cancer cells, potentially improving MYXV as a cancer-fighting agent.

"M159 protein is a member of the poxvirus C7-like host range factors. In the future, identifying the protein(s) that interact with M159 in hares and human cancer cells will allow us to understand whether M159 targets similar or diverse signaling pathways," said Rahman.

Rahman is a researcher in the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy at ASU. He is joined by Grant McFadden, director of the center and by Arvind Varsani, a researcher in the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics. McFadden, Varsani and Rahman are also researchers in ASU's School of Life Sciences. Additional ASU researchers include first author Ana Agueda-Pinto, Simona Kraberger, Anne Everts, Ami Gutierrez-Jensen and Honor L. Glenn.

Collaborators on the new study include researchers from Universidade do Porto, Vairão, Portugal; Universidad de Oviedo, Campus El Cristo, Oviedo, Spain; and (IRIAF), CIAG del Chaparrillo, Ciudad Real, Spain.

Specialised killer
In studying the mechanisms underlying the ability of viruses to cross species barriers, researchers rely on model organisms. The myxoma virus is a particularly attractive candidate for such investigations and is the most extensively researched field model for this type of study. This fact is due to a historical event in which MYXV was used to control populations of European rabbits in Europe and Australia, beginning in 1950.

MYXV belongs to the poxvirus family of viruses, a very large assemblage of double-stranded DNA viruses which includes many benign members as well as the virus that once caused the notoriously lethal disease smallpox.

Many kinds of viruses have spillover potential. Annual outbreaks of influenza, for example, are the result of spillover events occurring when migratory birds, acting as reservoirs for the virus, spread the disease to other species, including ducks, chickens, pigs and humans. As the virus moves from species to species, mutating strains acquire new abilities to aid their transmission and ability to evade host immune defenses.

Although the natural hosts of the MYXV virus are Sylvilagus rabbits (known in the Americas as cottontails), exposure of European rabbit populations to this virus proved 99% fatal, without any further adaptation of the virus to the European rabbit host. The highly contagious virus, spread through rabbit populations by fleas or mosquitos, produces a lethal rabbit disease known as myxomatosis. MYXV-Tol was found to cause a very similar lethal disease in hares.

Over the long term, the rabbit control strategy with MYXV failed, as evolutionary selective pressures acting on both the virus and host resulted in MYXV-resistant rabbits and attenuated virus variants. Nevertheless, MYXV provides a valuable laboratory tool for the study of the poorly understood dance between infectious agents and the molecular transformations used by species to thwart them.

"Every time a virus leaps from one host species into another, we learn something new about Mother Nature," McFadden says. "In the case of MYXV-Tol, we learned that the acquisition of a single new virus gene allowed this new virus strain access to a new host species that was previously resistant to the virus."

New virus on the block
Evidence suggests that Iberian hares had long been exposed to MYXV or a similar virus since at least the 1990's, with no resulting outbreak of myxomatosis occurring. Then, an altered virus strain known as MYXV-Tol appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. This new variant showed high similarity to the previously endemic form of the virus, known as MYXV-Lau, with one notable genomic exception. The new strain had acquired a small suite of new genes, which it acquired through recombination with an as-yet-unidentified poxvirus. The result was a supercharged variant that proved both infectious and highly lethal to hares living on the Iberian Peninsula, killing hundreds of them beginning in the Autumn of 2018.

Among the genes found in the MYXV-Tol variant was a gene coding for a protein known as M159. The new study explores this single protein as a possible culprit in MYXV-Tol's species-hopping capacity. The researchers examined laboratory cell lines of rabbit, hare and human cells exposed to MYXV variants with and without the M159 protein.

While strains containing the novel protein did not appear more infectious to cells of European rabbits, the M159-containing strains were now highly infectious to cells from European hares, whereas strains without the protein were not, establishing M159 as the key ingredient allowing MYXV to cross the species barrier.

The study also tested two human cancer cell lines that are normally resistant to MYXV, exposing them to the M159-enhanced version. The results were dramatic. Human pancreatic cancer and melanoma cells are typically semipermissive or nonpermissive to MYXV, meaning that the virus usually replicates poorly in these cell types. However, when the M159 protein was inserted into the MYXV-Lau strain, viral replication in both cancer cell lines was significantly enhanced, suggesting the protein could be used to improve MYXV as a cancer-fighting agent against some classes of human tumours.

Further research promises to shed new light on the highly pathogenic MYXV-Tol variant as well as illuminate the mechanisms used by other poxviruses to spillover into new animal species, including humans.

Ana Águeda-Pinto, Simona Kraberger, Anne Everts, Ami Gutierrez-Jensen, Honor L. Glenn, Kevin P. Dalton, Ana Podadera, Francisco Parra, Monica Martinez-Haro, José Alberto Viñuelas, Arvind Varsani, Grant McFadden, Masmudur M. Rahman, Pedro J. Esteves. Identification of a Novel Myxoma Virus C7-Like Host Range Factor That Enabled a Species Leap from Rabbits to Hares. mBio, 2022; 13 (2) DOI: 10.1128/mbio.03461-21

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