All I want for Christmas is a good night’s sleep…

Recently emptied bed

Sleep apnoea can be unbearable for all involved. Photo: Elias Quezada.

…A good night’s sleep, a good night sleep.

Sing it with us now, snorers and snorer sufferers of Australia! Because we might be able to help.

Sleep apnoea is just, well, horrible. It’s a condition where the air passage in the throat becomes blocked during sleep and causes people to stop breathing. Ask any of the million or so Australians who suffer from it – or their sleeping partners – and they will tell you it can cause massive damage: not only physically but emotionally.

Severe cases experience hundreds of blockages per night, leading to high blood pressure, stroke, irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and diabetes. Bed partners are affected too, with their chances of getting a good sleep rendered near impossible. It can lead to relationship breakdowns, and worse.

Thankfully, a new CSIRO-made solution may just offer a Christmas miracle: a 3D-printed titanium mouthguard that helps air flow freely for sufferers when sleeping.

Brisbane-based dentist Chris Hart first had the idea for a mouthguard with airways that would assist airflow past the sleep apnoea sufferer’s soft palette. He approached us for help developing a 3D device printed from titanium with a soft medical grade plastic mouthguard.

The result is the Oventus Clearway Device. It’s essentially a ‘duckbill’ which extends from the mouth like a whistle and divides into two separate airways. This allows air to flow through to the back of the throat, bypassing obstructions that cause the problems.

The titanium Clearway Device. It's a mouthguard against restless nights.

The titanium Clearway Device (the world’s shortest snorkle?)

For Gold Coast retiree and sleep apnoea sufferer Maurice Hrovat, 57, the new device – which he was lucky enough to trial – has been not just sleep-changing but life-changing. Hrovat was, in an apparently massive understatement, “quite a good snoorer”, and had long ago been banished from he and his wife’s bed, to sleep down the hallway.

Hrovat reported immediate benefits from his trial of the device. “I used to need an afternoon nap, I was so exhausted from a bad night’s sleep,” Hrovat says, but they’re now a thing of the past. “I find I am getting up earlier, and exercising more.” And, most importantly, he’s been allowed back into the master bed.

The Clearway Device is initially only available through the Turbot Street, Brisbane practice of Chris Hart. With practices in Sydney and Melbourne not introducing the product until the New Year, Santa might have to save your device until Christmas 2015. However, interested patients – or dental or medical practices – can find more information on the Oventus website.

NB Pricing for the device is around $1500 but depends on the patient’s individual requirements, as well as their healthcare funding and insurance cover.


Staying MouseAlert, not MouseAlarmed, this Christmas

Sure, he might look cute, but this fella and his friends can cause a whole lot of trouble when they get together.

Sure, he might look cute, but this fella and his friends can cause a whole lot of trouble when they get together.

By Leon Braun 

“’Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse …”

CSIRO scientists are keeping their eyes peeled for more than just Santa Claus this Christmas. With unusually high numbers of mouse sightings in Victoria this spring, CSIRO ecologist Peter Brown and colleagues at various Australian and New Zealand research agencies are monitoring mouse populations to see whether 2015 will bring a sigh of relief or send people scurrying for cover under a deluge of tiny, furry bodies.

While taken individually, mice can be rather cute (think Mickey, Mighty and Danger), en masse they can be absolutely devastating. In 1993, Australia’s worst ever mouse plague caused an estimated $96 million worth of damage, destroyed thousands of hectares of crops, blighted piggeries and ravaged poultry farms. The whiskered marauders chewed their way through rubber and electrical insulation, damaged farm vehicles, ruined cars and buildings. Another plague in 2010/11 was almost as bad, affecting 3 million ha of crops in NSW’s central west and the Riverina, as well as parts of Victoria and South Australia.

Eww.

This photo is named ‘Mice Mound”. There’s not much more we can add to that.

Along with economic hardship and disease, plagues bring severe psychological distress for people living through them.

“The sheer stress of dealing with mice in your kitchen every night takes its toll,” Peter says. “They’re everywhere: chewing, defecating, breeding.”

The good news is that with sufficient warning it is possible to prepare for mouse plagues, and to minimise the damage they cause, through early baiting and removing food supplies and cover. Over the years, our scientists have become increasingly accurate at predicting mouse plagues (they got it right in 1994 and 2001-2003) and have developed an ever more sophisticated range of tools to assist them. The latest weapon in their arsenal is “MouseAlert“, a citizen science website where keen-eyed rodent reporters can notify CSIRO about mouse sightings. The website is optimised for mobile phones, and Peter and his team hope to have an app out soon.

A recent mouse monitoring map. Marvelous!

A recent mouse monitoring map. Marvelous!

“Numbers are everything when you’re trying to predict a plague,” Peter says. “Traditionally we’ve used traps and chew cards [thin pieces of cardboard soaked in vegetable oil], but they have disadvantages, not least the fact that we’re not physically able to put them everywhere. MouseAlert allows us to capture data over a much wider area and potentially spot a plague well before it becomes a problem.”

Equally important as sightings, Peter says, are reports of where mice haven’t been.

“The jump from zero sightings to one or two can be an important indicator that mouse numbers are increasing,” he says. “By participating in citizen science, the public can help us identify these trigger points.”

So how are things looking this year? A little ominous, actually. Unusually high numbers of mice were seen in western Victoria in September. Depending on how much rain we get, they could build up to plague proportions by March or April next year. That’s why Peter wants mouse watchers to keep their eyes peeled:

“If it looks like there’s going to be a plague, we want to be able to give farmers plenty of time before sowing to prepare – or else put their minds at ease if it looks like there isn’t.”

So if you do see a mouse this Christmas Eve – stirring or not – get over to MouseAlert and report it. The pantry you’re saving could be your own!


The big day is here: RV Investigator’s Welcome to Port

Nicholas Kachel:

The sun’s out and the champagne’s been smashed(http://ow.ly/FLqwL)… It’s the RV Investigator’s Welcome to Port day! There’s a shipload of activity taking place in Hobart for this event today, but let’s step back for a second and take a look at just why the Investigator is worth all this fuss. Dive on in and explore below!

Originally posted on Investigator @ CSIRO:

RV Investigator

RV Investigator will be formally commissioned in Hobart today.

The day has finally arrived: our new 94 metre, A$120 million research vessel (RV) Investigator will be commissioned in Hobart today.

This marks Investigator’s transition  from being a CSIRO  ship building and commissioning project to being Australia’s new Marine National Facility ship, ready to embark on its maiden voyage in March 2015.

You may have noticed we’ve been making quite a bit of fuss about the Investigator recently. Here’s three* good reasons why.

First of all, she’s good news for Tasmania. Between them, Investigator and the Marine National Facility pump somewhere between $7 million and $11 million a year into the local economy. In the last ten years Hobart has become a marine and Antarctic science hub. CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship and the University of Tasmania’s $45 million Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) headquarters are located there, along with a large…

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Waking Up to New Horizons

Nicholas Kachel:

Our Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex just received a signal, sent at the speed of light, from 4.8 billion kilometres away. Who was it from? What was it about? Find out below…

Originally posted on Universe @ CSIRO:

New Horizons' flies past Pluto in this artists' rendition. Image: NASA/JHUAPL

New Horizons’ flies past Pluto in this artists’ rendition. Image: NASA/JHUAPL

I guess we all love to sleep in on a Sunday morning, maybe just snoozing under the doona, laying there for a few hours before getting up for a late brunch. Ah! Luxury.

On Sunday 7th December 2014, the New Horizons spacecraft, 5 billion kilometres away from the warmth of Earth, had little time to sleep in. It was ‘wake up’ day. The final awakening from hibernation for the next 2 years until well after its encounter with rapidly approaching dwarf planet, Pluto, set for the 14th July 2015.

Waiting back on Earth to hear the spacecraft’s morning ‘alarm’ go off was the giant 70 metre antenna dish at the CSIRO-managed, Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex – Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43).

Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra receiving the 'wake up' call from the New Horizons spacecraft. Image: CDSCC/CSIRO Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra receiving the ‘wake up’ call from the New…

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Getting down and dirty with digital maps

vis2

By Mikayla Keen and Claire Harris

Have you ever stopped to think about what’s under your feet, under our roads and under the wheat crops that produced the flour in your bread?

Soil features in every continent on the globe; it’s one of the fundamental building blocks of life. It’s pretty important stuff but we don’t often think about it.

But now, we’ve led a team of world experts digging deep, uncovering the secrets of soil and they’ve created the most comprehensive nation-wide digital map of Australia’s soils and landscapes. We worked with TERN (the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network), the University of Sydney and a number of state and federal government agencies.

And now, we present to you the Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia.

Using 3-dimensional spatial modelling, and combining rich historical data with new digital information gathered through technology like satellites and sensors in the laboratory, Australia’s best soil and landscape scientists have created new information and a very powerful tool.

The Grid itself is a marvel, representing the whole country as approximately 2 billion data pixels. That means each pixel is the snapshot of an area roughly the size of a football field (90 x 90 metres).  Every one of them contains information about the properties of the soil like pH, organic carbon and water capacity, down to a depth of 2 metres, and estimates of uncertainty (we couldn’t go out and sample the entire continent!). The Grid also contains details about the landscape, such as solar radiation and slope.

Red clay country in 3D

Red clay country in 3D

Not excited about the wonders of dirt? Then what about the science? The Grid uses exciting new infrared spectral methods to derive soil information rapidly and cheaply. It uses advanced spatial modelling that combines earth observation and satellite data to characterise and map the soil across the country.  And the technology? The Grid uses powerful computing clusters for computation for the modelling and to produce the maps. It uses smart computing to access the databases from state and territory departments, the University of Sydney and Geoscience Australia. During early user testing one person said, ‘Wow! I can get data in six minutes now instead of six months’. Before the Grid came along he would have had to gather the information from each of the different data systems. It wasn’t quite going door to door, but you get the picture.

Still not excited? How about some nifty data visualisation? The data can be viewed in a few different ways, for example, downloading it into Google Earth.

The Darling Downs as seen in the Grid

The Darling Downs as seen in the Grid

The best thing of all is that it’s freely available to everybody online.

For those keen beans like farmers, land managers, urban and regional planners and environmental scientists, who want to dig into the data, the files can be accessed through the Grid website in sections or the complete set is available through CSIRO’s Data Access Portal.

The data in the Grid can be sucked into a wide range of other databases and computer modelling programs and is useful to loads of different research projects. It is also part of Australia’s contribution to the GlobalSoilMap project.

For those who don’t want to get bogged down in the detail, check out our animation, which takes you on the journey of the Grid.

It’s been big collaborative effort with a large team  bringing together the best minds for the job. The Grid is ready and waiting for new data, some of which will no doubt come from technology that hasn’t even been invented yet (kangaroos with laser scanners on their heads anyone? Or is that TOO weird?)

For now, though, why not marvel at the beauty of the soil and landscape through the digital eyes of the Grid.


The thorny issue threatening the coral reefs of Pilbara

By Eamonn Bermingham 

The Great Barrier Reef is a global icon and something of a heavyweight in the natural world. If it was a movie it would be a Spielberg-directed Hollywood blockbuster starring Hugh Jackman and Angelina Jolie. Its cousin, Ningaloo Reef, off Australia’s western coast, is something of a poor relation in a branding sense, but still holds a relative degree of fame. It would be more your ‘straight-to-video’ sort of flick.

Take a trip further up the WA coast to the Pilbara region and you’ll encounter a series of islands and coral reefs – all 1,100 of them – that don’t have the branding power of the big-boy reefs. They don’t have a collective name, and probably won’t ever have a movie made about them. However, what they lack in Hollywood notoriety, they make up for in breathtaking beauty.

A school of Fusilier (Caesio cunning) fish swimming off Barrow Island in the Pilbara

A school of Fusilier (Caesio cunning) fish swimming off Barrow Island in the Pilbara.

To find out more about this area, we’ve been working with marine biologists from The University of Western Australia to conduct a health-check of the World Heritage-listed site, as part of the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership (PCMP).

Unfortunately, on a recent trip to the region our research team found an outbreak of the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (COTS)- one of the biggest threats to the future of coral reef. The spiky sea stars voraciously feed on the reef, causing a reduction in coral cover that forms the very building blocks of life in the ecosystem.

The outbreak comes at a particularly bad time for the Pilbara as it is already on the ropes following a series of severe bleaching events that have reduced the amount of live coral to an average of just over five per cent.

Reefs could probably cope with one of these things at a time, but when two such impacts occur, the combination of stressors can lead to long term declines in coral cover and coral reef health.

A COTS pictured at Black Rock Reef (Montebello Island)

A COTS pictured at Black Rock Reef, Montebello Island.

How bad is it?

Technically, the term ‘outbreak’ is used to describe densities of greater than ten animals per hectare. Our team observed densities of up to 220 per hectare around Barrow Island and the Montebello Islands. To give it some context, peak figures of up to 1000 per hectare have been recorded on the Great Barrier Reef. Although numbers at the Pilbara are much lower, they are easily high enough to consume coral faster than it can grow.

COTS are also prolific breeders with females producing up to 100 million eggs, so the problem could worsen quite easily. Here’s some video we captured on our recent trip:

What’s the cause and how can we fix it?

COTS and corals have co-evolved over millions of years and although outbreaks of COTS are nothing new, the frequency and intensity in many parts of the world are greater than they were in the past. Increased nutrients can promote outbreaks and there is also data to suggest that removing predators through overfishing can exacerbate the problem. An overall increase in water temperature can also play a role.

Identifying the extent of the problem is, as always, the first step. Fixing it is an altogether trickier business.

Manual removal and, in particular, poisoning have been successful at sites including sections of the Great Barrier Reef, while studies have also shown that outbreaks are less frequent in green zones protected from fishing.  Natural predators such as the triton gastropod and the puffer fish could also, in theory, reduce COTs numbers, however it’s not the most practical short-term solution.

Further research through projects like the PMCP can improve our understanding of outbreaks and the effectiveness of different management strategies.

The starfish outbreaks and current status of reefs in Pilbara will be one of the topics under discussion when the PMCP hosts around 90 people from government and industry at a symposium in Perth this week to showcase what’s happening with the project.

Find out more about the partnership here.

Media inquiries: Eamonn.Bermingham<at>csiro.au;  +61 8 6436 8627


Sensing your diagnosis on the spot

On the spot blood analysis provides immediate results to doctors and patients.

On the spot blood analysis provides immediate results to doctors and patients.

By Emily Lehmann

“We’ve got your test results back and…” *Gulp*

Does that feeling sound familiar? Having any kind of medical test can be nerve-wracking – not just because of the necessary probing – but for the fear of a potential diagnosis while you wait for the results.

Thanks to developments in point-of-care testing, the waiting game is over for certain crucial blood tests which can be performed and analysed on the spot using sensitive ‘biosensor’ devices. These are the types of instruments that doctors or diabetics use to measure blood sugar levels.

Test results can be provided immediately so that you can avoid the potentially unnecessary stress that often comes with waiting. There’s the opportunity to get onto treatment and the path back to better health faster – and it’s also much more efficient for healthcare providers.

We’ve been working with Universal Biosensors, a small-to-medium sized (SME) manufacturer who makes these devices locally, to help them improve their products and test for a broader range of diseases.

The project started through the Researchers in Business program, which brought on board our materials expert Dr Helmut Thissen. Helmut has since been working alongside the company to develop a new coating material that will make the biosensor test strips more sensitive.

This will allow the devices to be used for a range of new tests (immunoassays) not currently available in point-of-care testing and could lead to time and cost savings for already-stretched healthcare providers.

This exciting R&D project will enable Universal Biosensors to grow and export more high-end products internationally, while improving healthcare for patients around the globe.

Check out this video to learn more about the work we’re doing with this growing manufacturer:

Universal Biosensors was connected to our researchers through our SME Engagement Centre, which helps Aussie SMEs find the right science to overcome technical challenges and grow their business.

We’re continuing to work with the company to create superior products ready for the market, supported by Victorian State Government’s Technology Voucher Program.


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