By Simon Hunter
Stem cell research is rarely out of the news and today is no exception. Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has announced a $6.6m research project which will focus on the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Tanya’s announcement was spot on as today is World Multiple Sclerosis Day.
The project is an international collaboration bringing together researchers in California and Australia, which includes CSIRO and Monash University. The hope is that the three-year project will take the scientific community one step closer to developing novel treatments for MS patients.
The concept of human embryonic stem cell-based treatment is very new. Yes, there is a lot of research going on, but translating that work into medical treatment is harder than you might think.
To date, limited human safety trials have focused on the treatment of spinal cord injuries and blindness. The hope is that in time stem cell research will also prove beneficial in the treatment of diseases like MS.
One of the biggest challenges is producing the right type of cells. The last thing you want are cells that react badly or behave peculiarly in the body. This is where CSIRO comes in.
Our biomedical materials team manufactures cells in small incubators. We grow them, differentiate them and then characterise them – ensuring they are safe to use and that they do exactly ‘what it says on the tin’.
It is estimated that 400 000 Americans and 21 000 Australians live with MS so this project is pretty important. It’s going to be our job to ensure that researchers at Monash University and the University of California, Irvine, have the cells they need in sufficient quantity and purity so they can embark on preclinical studies.
Find out more about World Multiple Sclerosis Day at www.worldmsday.org.
By Helen Sim
More atomic hydrogen gas — the ultimate fuel for stars — is lurking in today’s Universe than we thought, CSIRO astronomer Dr Robert Braun has found.
This is the first accurate measurement of this gas in galaxies close to our own.
Just after the Big Bang the Universe’s matter was almost entirely hydrogen atoms. Over time this gas of atoms came together and generated galaxies, stars and planets — and the process is still going on. Astronomers want to understand where, when and how the atomic gas is transformed to better understand the Universe in which we live.
By taking a new look at some archival data, Dr Braun, Chief Scientist at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science in Sydney, Australia, has discovered that galaxies around us are hiding about a third more atomic hydrogen gas than previously calculated.
The study also shows that the gas is distributed very differently from how it was in the past, with much less in the galaxies’ outer suburbs than billions of years ago.
“This means that it’s much harder for galaxies to pull the gas in and form new stars,” Dr Braun said. “It’s why stars are forming 20 times more slowly now than in the past.”
The new finding doesn’t help solve the problem of “Dark Matter” — lots of mass, detectable by its gravity, that we haven’t yet identified.
“Even though there’s more atomic hydrogen than we thought, it’s not a big enough percentage to solve the Dark Matter problem. If what we are missing had the weight of a large kangaroo, what we have found would have the weight of a small echidna,” Dr Braun said.
Nevertheless, the work will continue to feed into our understanding of how galaxies evolve over time.
Dr Braun based his work on observations made with radio telescopes: CSIRO’s Parkes and Australia Telescope Compact Array telescopes in New South Wales (eastern Australia) and other radio telescopes in the USA and the Netherlands. His paper has been published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Helen Sim Ph: +61 2 9372 4251 Mb: 0419 635 905 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bartail Goatfish: Growing to about 30cm, the Bartail Goatfish is white to pinkish, with a red to black stripe and brownish spots on the side of the body. It has a barred tail and yellow barbels (the things hanging down from their head).
In Australia it is known from south-western Western Australia, around the tropical north of the country, and south to the southern coast of New South Wales.
They feed on the soft seabed using their long barbels to dig and sense small prey.
I’ve never had much time for gold. Most of my jewellery is novelty and gold doesn’t really feature in the collection. I can trace my disinterest in it back to my fourteenth birthday when my parents bought me my first 24 carat gold earrings. Being the Muppet that I am, I slept in them. The next morning I woke up late, panicked and then got out on the wrong side of bed, slamming my head (and most of my body) into a brick wall and breaking the clasp on the earring in my left ear lobe. My bad relationship with gold started here and it hasn’t really improved since.
However, breaking a gold plated earring with your head and a brick is nowhere near as impressive as slicing a gold nugget in half, etching it with acid and having a look at its insides—yep, that’s what CSIRO did.
We took a eight kilogram nugget of gold from our gold collection (two things: one, I never thought that I would ever write ‘our gold collection’ and two, eight kilograms is still half the amount of metal bling that Nelly currently has in his grill) and cut it in half to look at the structure of the nugget with the aim of figuring out how nuggets form.
Previously it was thought that gold nuggets formed where they were found, either precipitated from fluids or grown from microbial action. But when inspecting the structure of gold nuggets we found that they had a crystalline structure and they also contained silver.
This indicated that the nuggets were formed in high temperatures. Since these temperatures don’t occur at the Earth’s surface, we concluded that the nuggets must have originated deep underground. Over long periods of time, after a bit of weathering and other geological processes, the gold would eventually appear at the surface.
So why care? Understanding how gold nuggets form helps explorers decide where to search for it. If the nuggets are not formed where they are found, but weathered from gold-rich ore, the original source may still be nearby.
So if you’re into gold, you now have a deeper insight into how it is formed. Me, I am going back to my question-mark shaped earrings.
The video above shows the Australian dung weevil in action. The video was shot by DAFF entomologist Michael Gorton who works out of Cairns.
By Kim Pullen – Australian National Insect Collection
To Ancient Egyptians, the scarab beetles they observed rolling fabricated balls of dung across the ground symbolised the sun god rolling our star across the heavens.
Australia has its own ‘dung beetles’ related to the Mediterranean Scarabaeus sacer, and some of them also roll balls of dung away to a suitable spot and bury them, each one to serve as a breeding chamber for a grub. But only in Australia do we have weevils, an entirely different group of beetles, adopting the same ball-rolling habit.
The Antipodean weevils, belonging to 10 or so species of the genus Tentegia found mostly in our tropics, save time by using kangaroo, wallaby and possum pellets that are already the right size and shape – round, and not too big to roll, but at the same time big enough to retain some moisture in the middle and provide an appetising meal.
Those weevils that have been studied always bury their pellets under logs, where the shady microclimate would provide at least a little protection from the scorching dry-season temperatures of the Australian savanna, and use burrows already dug out of the soil by other animals such as ants, crabs or spiders.
We now recognise the conservation value of retaining logs in the landscape as habitat for vertebrates such as lizards, snakes and small mammals. It is clear that Australia’s unique dung-rolling weevils also need them.
See more of the Australian National Insect Collection HERE
Perfect Match’s Dexter would have to be up there with the favourites. You know, the 1980s robot that, long before eHarmony and RSVP, used to glide across the TV studio and ‘scientifically’ compute the compatibility of awkward contestants looking for love by responding to suggestive questions about which vegetable is most like them.
If only the contestants had their own robot – let’s say it was called Sense – to consult on life’s big questions, such as ‘Should I humiliate myself on national TV for a chance at a 3-star holiday on the Gold Coast with a complete stranger’, or ‘Do I really need this much hairspray?’, or ‘Is tie-dye going to last the fashion test of time?’ But, I digress.
There was something about Dexter that made him likeable – the intellect, the little blue hat, the computerised voice. He was a smidge sexy. Indeed, robots are a little bit cool.
So, you’re probably not surprised that here at CSIRO, where (ahem) cool is the currency, we thought we’d get amongst it. Well, to be honest, we’ve been working in robotics for decades now… but this is particularly clever.
We’re working on a robot for the National Museum of Australia. The idea is that it’ll roam the floors of their Landmarks: People and Places Across Australia Gallery (where Phar Lap’s heart and the prototype Holden are on show) and, using broadband technology, kids in remote and regional areas will be able to link in via the robot to see what’s at the gallery and learn more about the exhibits.
Dr Jonathan Roberts from the CSIRO ICT Centre, who had the idea for the project, probably explains it better…
“The robot will navigate itself around the museum alongside the educator while the remote students will use a special 360-degree field-of-view camera to look around and explore the collection,” Jonathan said.
During the trial, the robot will be accessible by schools and libraries with an NBN connection.
“It’s a pretty nice example of some of the applications that are possible from high-speed broadband technologies,” Jonathan added.
The tele-presence and robotics technology is now being developed by CSIRO, with the first prototype of the robot expected to start ‘walking’ the gallery floors from mid-year. We’ll be sure to show you a sneak peak once it’s made. Students will have access to the system from around October.
And, though they’re too young to remember match-making Dexter, we think the students will find a special place in their hearts for this new piece of robot technology.
Find out more HERE
Flinders Ranges Purple-spotted Gudgeon: A special fish for news@CSIRO and true Outback Battler. When working as a journalist in the 1990s I wrote a series of stories about a plan by a mining company to build an access road along a gorge in the Gammon Ranges (northern Flinders Ranges) which was a know habitat for the Flinders Ranges Purple-spotted Gudgeon. Of course my reports were fair and balanced….. To give full credit to the then SA State Government, the miners were told to pack their swags.
So last week when news@CSIRO passed through the Gammon Ranges we had to stop of the Weetootla Gorge where the fish are found and pay our respects.
Not a lot is known about these fish but the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities web site has a pretty good page on them HERE.
In part it says:
The Flinders Ranges Gudgeon is a robust freshwater fish growing to a max. length of about 13 cm, with a rounded tail fin, two separate back fins, a brown to dark blue back surface, and blue and rust spotting on the sides.
Known populations of this species appear to be confined to a small stretch (a few km) of Balcanoona Ck in the Gammon Ranges NP located in the NE Flinders Ranges of SA and a recently discovered population in the upper Barcoo River in Qld. Another specimen, collected at the Bulloo River at Tobermory Station in SW Qld is provisionally identified as this species.
Some of the fish were released in to the Thorndon Park Reserve in Adelaide about 10 years ago but I am not sure how they went.
What do a radiator, a walking cane, a coat hanger and a doorknob have in common? Weirdly enough they can all be made from titanium and were just some of the candidates vying for top prize in last year’s Titanium Challenge.
The 2012 Challenge is now open – see the site HERE. There’s a 3D Printing Systems UP! printer and two trips to the USA up for grabs, so get to the website to find out what you need to do to be in the running.
The great thing about titanium is that it is strong and light, so it can be used for any number of things including car parts, tennis rackets and prosthetic hip joints. It is also more resistant to corrosion than many other metals, so it’s perfect for all of these applications.
At CSIRO, we love titanium and we want to spread that love to every engineering and design student in the land, through the Titanium Challenge 2012. We challenge you to come up with an exciting and innovative concept in one of the following categories:
- The Additive Manufacturing Challenge: design a novel component using additive manufacturing for a commercial market (aerospace, automotive, bio-medical or sporting goods).
- The Materials Challenge: use your knowledge of the performance–property–processing relationship to theorise about what should happen when powder is converted to product.
You have just nine days to get your entries in, so get those craniums working and show us what you’ve got.
Weedy seadragon: Now isn’t that a wonderful little specimen? AND it’s a dragon. AND it’s only found in Australia. What a winner.
We’re pleased to note that the seadragon is indeed a fish and is related to the seahorse, although the seadragon can grow to 45cm.
The adult is predominantly reddish in colour with some wonderful splashes of yellow and purple. As you can see above, their leaf-like appendages help provide camouflage in seaweed (although those brilliant colours probably don’t help too much with that).
They get to 50m depths all along Australia’s southern coastline. They are listed as a ‘near threatened’ species.
Quiz: Which Australian state or territory features the weedy seadragon as their marine emblem?
Chuck on a lab coat, slap on some safety glasses and take a little peek into the world of chemistry. George Feast is one of our chemists. Here he is talking to Angela (and you) about what he does in the world of drug design.
It’s true, ours was not the first. Blog that is. CSIRO blog that is. But that’s ok, because if it wasn’t for Tania over at CSIROsolarblog.com, we probably would still be talking about ROI and representation of the logo and the personal/public divide.
So here we are!
Generally we don’t like to brag (well, Huw does but he’s not here so ‘we’ refers to me) but we’ve survived 6 months now and we’re having some laughs. We hope you occasionally read a post and find yourself nodding and muttering under your breath ‘ahh… that’s interesting’.
So you can imagine our paternal delight in seeing another blog in our midst.
Only a few weeks ago, Sarah went live with CSIROFRVblog.com. We could give you the lowdown on the Future Research Vessel… but perhaps you could just read the blog?
And then there were 3.
This morning, I really needed coffee. Technically I needed more sleep but coffee was going to be my substitute. As I looked at my 35 cents in my pathetic excuse for a wallet I realised I was going to have to walk to the university across the road to find an ATM. Whilst smiling lovingly at the polymer banknotes that fell into my hands – and dreaming of the coffee that was soon to follow – I realised that the organisation that pays me also invented the money that they pay me with.
Now, of course, money was around before CSIRO but for hundreds of years banknotes were made from rag-based paper, which, since the dawn of photography, isn’t the best material for making currency. These days our money is made from polymers and Australia is the first country in the world to use ‘plastic’ bank notes.
In 1966, when Australia converted from the Imperial system to decimal currency, new state-of-the-art bank notes were introduced. Unfortunately, within a year of their release quality forgeries of the $10 note were already circulating. So that was when CSIRO was asked to step in. It was our expertise in polymer and synthetic chemistry that was used to develop a non-fibrous and non-porous plastic film, which the banknotes are printed on.
In addition to the plastic film we also developed optically variable devices (OVDs) – devices that change its appearance when something external to the note is changed. For example, if the note is held between the fingers the pressure causes a colour change; if the note is rotated a colour change occurs or an image moves across the note etc. These OVD’s cant be photographed and hence make the notes difficult to forge. I guess the appropriate word at this point is, winning! Our nifty polymer bank note technology is now being used overseas, in 22 countries, as commemorative or circulating notes.
Polymers are long chains of molecules strung together; think of them as like beads on a string. And they are in a lot of things, such as paints, mobile phones, car parts, and clothing. Making polymers was an inexact science and the process of making polymers needed to be controlled to allow scientists to design their polymers for specific purposes. The same guy who led the team that made the polymer bank notes, Professor David Solomon, also led the teams that developed two separate systems that gave us better control when making polymers: Nitroxide Mediated Polymerisation and RAFT.
Professor Solomon along with Dr Ezio Rizzardo developed RAFT, a process which is being used in almost every university chemistry department. RAFT is helping other researchers make new polymers and develop new products that will eventually be used by us. One such product is the organic light emitting diode (OLED). A while a go we mentioned how OLEDs would be a good way to Lighten the Load of planes. OLED panels emit light in a very diffuse and even way across a range of colours. They are already being used in television screens, computer monitors, mobile phones and cameras.
If you like polymers – or money – you might want to go see the David and Ezio talk about how they made money and revolutionised polymer science on Monday night, 7 May. They will be at CSIRO Discovery in Canberra discussing all the technologies they have instrumental in developing. Check out the details of the talk.
The Mon Calamari are an amphibious race from the planet Dac.
They are humanoid, about 1.7m tall and are most commonly seen with salmon-coloured skin and a squid-like, domed head with large eyes.
They are shore dwellers but like to be close to water and can breathe under water if necessary. They are also lithe water dancers and renown for their performance art.
The Admiral is the most famous of their kind, betraying the non-human hating Galactic Empire to become the supreme admiral of the Rebel Alliance’s naval force.