Saving daylight

Bird on branch

Don’t be a confused cuckoo. Turn back your clocks this weekend. Image: Flickr / Sean MCann

This coming Sunday when the clocks are wound back one hour, the curtains will stop fading faster, birds and cows will no longer be confused by the ‘extra’ sunshine and life will return to its natural rhythm.

For those living in South Australia, NSW, Tasmania, Victoria and the ACT, Daylight Saving comes to an end this week.

Daylight Saving has caused much debate since it was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin in 1784.

Not that “adjusting” time to suit our needs was new then.  Ancient civilizations adjusted daily schedules to the sun – often dividing daylight into 12 hours regardless of day length, so that each daylight hour was longer during summer.

Roman water clocks had different scales for different months of the year. In Rome the third hour after sunrise started just after 9am and lasted 44 minutes at the winter solstice, but at the summer solstice it started just before 7am and lasted 75 minutes.

George Vernon Hudson

The granddaddy of Daylight Saving, Mr George Vernon Hudson

Modern Daylight Saving never really got off the ground until 1895 when an entomologist from New Zealand, George Vernon Hudson, wrote a paper that proposed a two-hour shift forward in October and a two-hour shift back in March. He followed up his proposal with an article in 1898, and although there was interest in the idea, it was never followed through.

Some places in Argentina, Iceland, Russia, Uzbekistan and Belarus have introduced permanent Daylight Saving and the United Kingdom stayed on it from 1968 to 1971.

There are also apparently some health issues related to Daylight Saving.

People who are already vulnerable to heart disease may be at greater risk right after sudden time changes.

Recently a study was released in the US which showed that people who were already vulnerable to heart disease may be at greater risk right after sudden time changes.

According to the study, turning clocks forward an hour for Daylight Saving time was followed by a spike in heart attacks on the Monday following. Monday is traditionally the day when most heart attacks occur  – it is suggested that the stress of returning to work may be a cause. There was a 25 per cent jump in the number of heart attacks occurring the Monday after the spring time change – or a total of eight additional heart attacks. But when clocks fall back and people gain an hour of sleep, there was a drop (21 per cent) in heart attacks on the Tuesday.

So, it seems the odds are increased that I will live a bit longer – at least until Daylight Saving comes back.

While it seems that every article about Daylight Saving has to have the curtain fading gag, is there ‘extra’ sunshine?

In the 1950s scientists in our Division of Physics were using a flare-patrol telescope to observe disturbances in the Sun’s chromosphere. It showed the appearance and growth of several flares and surges. Some of these disturbances are observed against the disk of the Sun. Those too faint for this are studied at the limb, or edge, of the Sun.

Aurora over the frozen forests of Sweden

Aurora over the frozen forests of Sweden. Image: RainbowJoe

Coronal mass ejections on the Sun release huge amounts of matter and electromagnetic radiation which can cause particularly strong aurorae (Northern and Southern Lights), disrupt radio transmissions and cause damage to satellites and electrical transmission line facilities.

Coronal mass ejections reach velocities between 20km/s to 3200km/s with an average speed of 489km/s. They take between one and five days to reach Earth.

So is that extra sunshine?

Teat time: puggles like you’ve never seen them

Head shot David Attenborough

Oh, to be that close to the Sir.

The saying goes that if Sir David Attenborough says it, it must be true.

I may have made that one up, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the Sir commands a level of respect about all things in the natural world above any other living scientist. I would even go so far as to say that if the Sir gave me advice on my home loan or hair style, I’d probably take it.

So you can imagine our delight when, while watching the Sir’s ‘Rise of Animals’ last week, we saw footage from our film archives, dating back to the early 1970s. The Sir spends some time talking about echidnas, one of only two mammals that lay eggs (the other is the platypus). The soft, leathery egg is deposited into the pouch and hatches approximately 22 days later. Welcome to the world, little puggle.

This reproductive process is quite unique and, in the Sir’s words, ‘the hatching process itself has only rarely been captured on film’. So pleased are we to have been the ones to capture it.

If you’ve only got 10 seconds to spare you can watch our highly-anticipated GIF series of a puggle hatching below… or scroll right down for the full rare footage (all 1 minute, 3 seconds of it).


‘I’m gonna go lay me an egg’




The tiny, terrifying tooth

Get ready for the puggle in full hatching glory.

Our archive videos make for great viewing. If you loved watching a puggle hatch, then you’ll squeal with delight watching the slightly more grotesque ‘Birth of the red kangaroo‘. Or better yet subscribe to our YouTube channel where every Throwback Thursday we treat you to an archive classic.


PS. Before someone else points this out, I am well aware that echidnas don’t have teats. They have milk patches. Let’s be honest, saying ‘Patch time’ wouldn’t have made for such an interesting headline… so let’s just call it artistic licence.

Why we ♥ science

As many spend big this Valentine’s Day on roses, chocolates and novelty balloons – $791.4 million is expected to be spent nationally – we think that love is all you need. Over the past few months, we’ve had a summer romance-of-sorts with some of Australia’s brightest young minds. We’re talking about our vacation scholarship program, where about 200 undergraduate students spend their summer working on research projects across the country, from searching for black holes with our Parkes radio telescope to helping develop CO2 absorbent polymers.

This week, a group of our summer students got together for our annual Big Day In at the University of New South Wales, where they presented about their summer research. The student who took out the top presentation prize, Fletcher Talbot, worked on a gesture recognition system for the Museum Robot, or “M-Bot”, which roams the galleries of the National Museum of Australia. Fletcher created 40 custom hand gestures the M-Bot can detect.

Move, robot.

Fletcher’s gesture recognition system in action.

The students also took the opportunity to declare their love for science. “I love Science because it’s a way of understanding the world,” and “I love Science because it’s really innovative, it’s always changing and it’s really dynamic.” Check out the video below.

Video transcript available here.

Why do you love science? Let us know in the comments.

And happy Valentine’s Day.

Here’s more information on our scholarship programs and careers with us.

Where in the world are we?

Us Aussies are a clever bunch. Without the likes of our biologists, engineers, physicists and software developers, the world would be a very different place. We wouldn’t have refrigeration to keep our food fresh, antibiotics to fight infection or Google Maps to point us in the right direction.

And as Australia’s national science agency, we’re proud to be a part of this group.

For over 90 years we’ve been working hard to help make a real difference to the lives of everyday people.

In fact, you can find our science pretty much everywhere – from supermarket shelves to your very own pockets. You might already know that we’re the brains behind the WiFi in your smartphone, the Aeroguard on your limbs and the polymer banknotes in your wallet.

But what you probably didn’t know is that our people are lurking in the streets and suburbs near you. Our team of 6,500 staff work across 58 sites around the nation.

So where are they all? And more importantly, what are they doing there? All is revealed in our new infographic (click to view full size).


Accelerating our dragon R&D program


A mythical generator: Could the fire in Smaug’s belly power a small city?

We’ve been doing science since 1926 and we’re quite proud of what we have achieved. We’ve put polymer banknotes in your wallet, insect repellent on your limbs and Wi-Fi in your devices. But we’ve missed something.

There are no dragons.

Over the past 87 odd years we have not been able to create a dragon or dragon eggs. We have sighted an eastern bearded dragon at one of our telescopes, observed dragonflies and even measured body temperatures of the mallee dragon. But our work has never ventured into dragons of the mythical, fire breathing variety.

And for this Australia, we are sorry.

This came to our attention today when we received the following letter:

Hello Lovely Scientist

My name is Sophie and I am 7 years old. My dad told me about the scientists at the CSIRO. Would it be possible if you can make a dragon for me. I would like it if you could but if you can’t thats fine. 

I would call it toothless if it was a girl and if it is a boy I would name it Stuart. 

I would keep it in my special green grass area where there are lots of space. I would feed it raw fish and I would put a collar on it. If it got hurt I would bandage it if it hurt himself. I would play with it every weekend when there is no school. 

Love from Sophie


Fanmail, with a call for dragon R&D.

Last week the Scientific American hypothesised whether dragon fire would be produced by flint, gas, or rocket fuel. We already do some research in alternative fuels, so perhaps dragon fuel is a good area for us to start accelerating our dragon R&D program. Hobbit fans would have observed the amount of fire in Smaug’s belly. But how much energy could it produce? Would dragon fuel be a low emissions option?

Thanks for the fuel for thought, Sophie. We’re looking into it. In the meantime, you can always admire the brood of Daenerys Targaryen.


Sophie’s dragon.


*  *  *

UPDATE: We made Sophie a dragon. Really. Check it out in our latest post, Here be 3D printed dragons.

How mo can you grow?

Gen Mo brothers in arms - Fletcher Woolard and Movember Australia Country Director, Jeremy Macvean.

Gen Mo brothers in arms – our very own Fletcher Woolard and Movember Australia Country Director, Jeremy Macvean.

By Carrie Bengston

For us, Movember isn’t just about blokes growing facial hair and raising funds for men’s health – it’s a chance to collect data and muck around with technology.

Computer fluid dynamicist Fletcher Woolard is more used to animating geophysical flows like tsunamis and landslides. But this month, he thought he’d try something a little different – animating mo growth.

Using his skills in computer simulation, he photographed day by day, millimetre by millimetre, follicle by follicle how his mo was growing – and turned it into a cool time lapse video.

In just four seconds, you can see Fletcher’s facial hair growing at around 400,000 times the normal speed.

Unfortunately his efforts were still a long way off Ram Singh Chauhan, who has spent over thirty years crafting an impressive 4.29 metre long moustache. But hey, it’s not bad for less than a month’s growth.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this isn’t our first attempt at capturing hair growth data.

Even our resident alien, Max, is getting involved. Check out his mo-gress.

Even our resident alien, Max, is getting involved. Check out his mo-gress.

Back in 2008, our image analysis team developed software to count and measure hair regrowth. It was designed to test the effectiveness of hair removal products more accurately – which is traditionally a manual (and pretty boring) process.

The software took digital images from a specifically designed scanner pressed on to the skin, and used smart algorithms to automatically look for the hairs. Despite initial interest from several hair replacement studios, it  sadly never made it to product stage

But all is not lost. Luckily in today’s world of mobile wireless technology, there’s an app for that – the mo tracker.


For more information or to get involved in Movember, head to Movember Australia.

Critter corner: Horse-y animals that are not horses

They say it’s the race that stops a nation, but let’s face it: The Melbourne Cup isn’t for everyone.

If you aren’t a cup fan, you’re not a bad sport. You’re not “un-Australian” and it’s probably not that you don’t like horses in general. From Black Beauty to Mister Ed to Daenerys Targaryen’s ride Silver, there are lots of nice horses that have nothing to do with horse racing. There are also lots of other “horse” animals named for their equine appearance.

If you’re not a racing or sports fan, this special edition of Critter Corner brings you some horse-y animals to enjoy. You could even come back and read this at 3:00pm when your colleagues are busy watching race horses run around a track.

The Horse Fly

A horse fly from the Family Tabanidae.

A horse fly from the Family Tabanidae.

Note the biting mouth parts. Horse flies will be familiar to anyone who has been walking through wet habitats during the warmer months and felt the sharp, piercing bite of these annoying insects. It’s the female flies that feed on the blood of mammals, including humans. Although many consider them a pest, horse flies are quite important pollinators of plants. They act like hummingbirds during the day, drinking nectar from their favourite varieties of grevillea, tea trees and eucalypts.

Scientific name: Scaptia beyonceae. This species of horse fly has a glamorous golden lower abdomen and was named by CSIRO researchers in honour of American pop diva, Beyoncé.

Scientific name: Scaptia beyonceae. This species of horse fly has a glamorous golden lower abdomen and was named by CSIRO researchers in honour of American pop diva, Beyoncé.

The Pipehorse

Common name: Ribboned Pipehorse. Scientific name: Haliichthys taeniophorus. Family: Syngnathidae.

Common name: Ribboned Pipehorse. Scientific name: Haliichthys taeniophorus. Family: Syngnathidae.

Pipehorses differ from the Seahorses as their heads are positioned at a less acute angle to their body. Due to their straight shape, pipehorses can’t extend their snouts as far as the curvaceous seahorse. Quite sad for those times when you need to stretch a few more millimetres to reach your dinner.

The Seahorse

Common name: Eastern Spiny Seahorse. Scientific name: Hippocampus hendriki. Family: Syngnathidae.

Common name: Eastern Spiny Seahorse. Scientific name: Hippocampus hendriki. Family: Syngnathidae.

Seahorses are really the curvy pin-up fish of the sea. But why are they so curvaceous? Seahorse evolved from straight-bodied swimmers like pipefish—their curved trunk, bent head and long snout help them catch their dinner. Nature wrap it all up in this video on YouTube.

The horseshoe bat

The eastern horseshoe bat. They roost in warm, humid caves and occasionally under buildings. Up to 50 bats roost together, hanging from the ceiling. Image: Australian Museum/GB Baker.

According to the Australian Museum, eastern horseshoe bats are distinguished by the horseshoe-shaped fleshy area around their nose. They hunt flying and non-flying insects and spiders, and hibernate over winter in southern Australia. A few months ago we posted how the blobfish was named the world’s ugliest animal… We may just have a contender for the 2014 title.

Inside the scream machine

By Angela Beggs

Step inside an anechoic chamber and close the door. It’s an eerie sensation, floor to wall, it’s covered in foam and once you’re in, it’s hard to get out.

What’s even creepier is that no one in the outside world could hear even the most blood curdling of screams from anyone stuck inside the chamber.

This got us thinking about our favourite scream scenes from the scary movies of the past.

Our scientists, usually busy testing the acoustic properties of walls, floors and windows for commercial buildings, let us come in for a Halloween special and we brought some of our favourite screams with us to the sound testing chamber.

So which scream shattered the spine tingling frequency charts??? We’ll give you a clue, it wasn’t Arnie or the shrill heard when JAWS attacked… check this out oh, and welcome to the Scream Machine.

Just GIF this a chance

It’s safe to say that we’re big fans of GIFs. The funny ones, the cute ones, the downright ridiculous ones. The Graphics Interchangeable Format world was one that we appreciated from afar; at home, on the weekend. We never thought that our scientific research or any strategic goal would let itself to GIF creation.

Until today.

Over our team’s morning coffee, gazing wistfully over our view of the carpark, I said, “Let’s give the people GIFs.” So here you are: A collection of the best CSIRO GIFs that will make you fall in love with our science.

Just an epic shot of a radio telescope dish (one of the many that make up ASKAP in WA).


Spot the researcher waving from the shipping crate.


A stealth robot, because we make those to monitor wildlife (among other things).


And an itty bitty kangaroo was born.


Expert use of a GoPro camera aboard the Southern Surveyor.


Yes, that’s a big door. They’re trying to get into one of Australia’s highest level biosecurity labs at AAHL in Geelong.


Real early adopters. These guys are operating CSIRAC, Australia’s first computer and the 5th in the world.


A hexapod robot. The closest our research gets to SpiderMan.


If you want more, BuzzFeed have a fantastic collection of scientific GIFs.

And just a friendly public service announcement that it’s actually pronounced jiff.

Little flying robots have the ‘Hex’ Factor

If you got lost in the Queensland outback and it was days until you were rescued, the experience would be horrific. Potentially life-threatening. It’s safe to say you would be hesitant to venture into the outback again.

Unless, of course, your name is Joe. Outback Joe.

Year after year, Outback Joe strategically places himself in a pocket of the Queensland outback where he’s particularly hard to find. Outback Joe is the poster boy of the annual UAV Challenge (UAV stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, a.k.a. drones, or little flying robots). It’s an international search and rescue competition to save lost bushwalker Outback Joe by using unmanned aircraft to find him, and deliver the poor guy a chocolate bar.

Outback-Joe (2)

Outback Joe, ready to go on the first day of the challenge. It’s his 7th consecutive year of going missing.

The Search and Rescue prize for success is $50,000– over the competition’s seven years, the grand prize has never been won. The Challenge also features an ‘Airborne Delivery’ prize for high school students, with over $10,000 in prizes up for grabs.

This year 11 teams from QLD, SA and ACT high schools entered the Airborne Delivery challenge, battling it out to deliver supplies to Joe. The teams flew their robotic aircraft around the airfield search zone, aiming to drop a package containing a chocolate bar to Joe. First place went to the QLD team Calamvale Raptors, who managed to get the bar within 1.2 metres of Outback Joe.


The Calamvale Raptors team. Their successful ‘chocolate drop’ scored them $5,000.

This year marked a milestone in the competition as the team with the youngest team members, The HexFactor, managed to drop the chocolate bar autonomously.

“This is the first time a team has managed that and it was an exciting moment for the UAV Challenge. Their robot was a hexacopter – a six engined helicopter that they built themselves,” said Head Judge of the UAV Challenge and CSIRO’s Program Leader for Autonomous Systems, Dr Jonathan Roberts. The HexFactor didn’t come out on top, but placed sixth, as would be expected with such a team name. They will be remembered in challenges to come for their autonomous dropping milestone.

The-HexFactor (2)

The HexFactor. The team with the youngest members and the first to autonomously drop a chocolate bar to Outback Joe.

The Search and Rescue Challenge runs over two years, 2013-2014. In this challenge, international team’s UAVs must locate Outback Joe and deliver an emergency package to him. This year 80 teams from 20 different countries passed the first milestone and will continue next September, when the $50,000 prize will be on offer.

While our UAV developments improve over the next year and years to come, spare a thought for Outback Joe. It’s been seven long years that he’s been waiting to be rescued. Last year Joe tweeted, “So is that it? I saw a plane and waved but no water…”

There’s more about the UAV challenge on their website.

Is Friday the 13th really that unlucky?

For some, today marks a day of great terror and fear. But is there really any proof that Friday the 13th is unlucky? Hold on to your horseshoes – we’re about to find out.

If today’s date really does freak you out, chances are you have friggatriskaidekaphobia – a fear of Friday the 13th. Millions of people claim to experience this phobia, with symptoms ranging from mild anxiety to full-blown panic attacks.

Cross your fingers and stroke your lucky rabbit foot - it's Friday the 13th. Image: Shutterstock.

Cross your fingers and stroke your lucky rabbit foot – it’s Friday the 13th. Image: Shutterstock.

For those who prefer the scientific approach, what I’m about to say probably won’t surprise you. There is no real statistical proof to confirm that 13 is an unlucky number. Quite frankly, there’s no reason to believe that any number would be lucky or unlucky.

Yet still, many people have tried to prove otherwise.

British study in 1993 found that the risk of hospital admissions from road accidents increased by up to 52 per cent during the months that the 13th fell on a Friday. While the authors concluded Friday the 13th may be unlucky for some, this wasn’t intended to be taken seriously.

For others, today can be a lucky day. According to the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics, fewer accidents and fires occur on Friday 13th – probably because people are more careful or stay at home. A superstitious couple also won $17 million after buying a lottery ticket on Friday 13th, the same day their mirror at home fell and broke.

So while there’s no real scientific proof that Friday the 13th is an unlucky (or lucky) day, it clearly doesn’t stop us from believing.

Check out more strange superstitions from around the world.

Forever alone: blobfish named world’s ugliest animal

It’s a face only a mother-blobfish could love.

The raw ugliness of the blobfish is now award-winning. The unfortunate appearance of the fish, a.k.a. Mr Blobby, has been honoured with the critter winning the Ugly Animal Preservation Society’s ugliest animal competition.

Poor, ugly Mr Blobby.

The blobfish. Award-winning ugliness.

The blobfish. Award-winning ugliness.

Please, hold back your disgust as we take a moment to let you know where on Earth the blobfish comes from (there is some science and research behind this horrific facade). Mr Blobby is psychrolutid fish (family Psychrolutidae). Fishes in this family are called the fathead sculpins. Yes, fathead. The ‘fathead sculpins’ refers to the large, globular head and ‘floppy’ skin that is typical of these fishes. They inhabit the deep waters off the coasts of mainland Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Blobby was found off the coast of New Zealand, at a depth between 1013 and 1340 metres, on a NORFANZ voyage in 2003. Scientists on board affectionately named him Mr Blobby. The voyage was a collaboration between CSIRO,  New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), and the then Department of Heritage. Scientists from eleven museums and state departments around Australia, New Zealand and the world hopped on board the NIWA deep-sea research vessel, the R.V. Tangaroa for the voyage. Other than Mr Blobby, they came back with quite a bounty of deep sea critters you can check out here.

As for the blobfish, it now resides in the Australian Museum Ichthyology Collection. It was initially fixed in formaldehyde and is now preserved in 70% ethyl alcohol. According to the Museum, the fixation process has ‘tightened’ Mr Blobby’s skin so his ‘nose’ has shrunk and he no longer retains his ‘cute’ look. We’ll leave you to form your own conclusions about ethanol and the demise of ‘cute’ looks.

While his nose may have shrunk, the blobfish was still hot enough property that it passed off as a slimy lump of an alien in Men in Black 3. Seriously, watch the short clip below.

After reaching global stardom, the Australian Museum set up Mr Blobby’s own Facebook page and Twitter account. You can even buy a blobfish T-shirt in every colour of the rainbow. And you know you’ve really hit the big time when the Australian news outlets claim the New Zealand caught fish as ‘our own’.

After much success, it seems unfair that the blobfish has been named the world’s ugliest animal. In an animal kingdom with baby panda bears, fluffy ducklings and labradoodles, it’s certainly difficult to be adorable. The Ugly Animal Preservation Society said “It’s a light-hearted way to make people think about conservation,” for ugly animals too.

Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. While the public vote may not agree, we want the blobfish to know that we still think you’re beautiful. Beautiful in your own, unique, blobby way.

Mr Blobby, we still love you. Image: Deviant Art/yongharn

Mr Blobby, we still love you. Image: Deviant Art/yongharn

‘Tis the season for Cocky Apple

To us city dwellers the start of spring marks a season of new beginnings, spring cleaning and often, hay fever. The days become longer and we happily defrost after the chill of winter. But as our supermarkets beckon to our every need, many aren’t quite sure of what fruit or vegetables are really in season.

To others who live in regional areas, or are simply more in tune with the land, seasonal changes are essential knowledge. Spring in the Northern Territory marks the impending wet season and cyclone preparation. For Larrakia people in the Darwin region, September brings the Dalirrgang season, or Build Up. In the Dalirrgang season the Cocky Apple drops a carpet of white flowers; their sweet scent signals the build-up to the wet season has arrived. Freshwater mangrove fruit signifies it’s time to hunt Gakkingga (Magpie Goose).

September marks the beginning of Dalirrgang season, where Magpie Goose are a meal for some.

September marks the beginning of Dalirrgang season, where Magpie Goose are a meal for some.

For the first time, detailed Aboriginal seasonal knowledge of the Darwin region has been converted into an interactive online educational resource. Researcher Emma Woodward said many Aboriginal people are concerned about the loss of their knowledge, while at the same time there is strong demand from schools for more traditional ecological information.

In September and October the Cocky Apple drops a carpet of white flowers; their sweet scent signals that the build-up to the wet season has arrived.

The interactive Larrakia calendar. In September and October the Cocky Apple drops a carpet of white flowers; their sweet scent signals that the build-up to the wet season has arrived.

The online Larrakia calendar shows seven seasons in an annual cycle of climatic and ecological understanding. Emma said the Larrakia calendar could also be used to monitor future environmental change. “Aboriginal people have a deep understanding of complex connections in the environment. Their observations have revealed relationships and links between plants, animals, water and climate that we weren’t aware of before”.

Take a look at the online calendar here.

Talkin’ Turkey (in July)

Merry Winter! It’s that time of year where we try and survive the cold, rain and snow by eating, drinking and gift giving. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas (in July). CSIRO_HealthBites_Infographic_02_Turkey_FINAL

A tale of German explorers, barons and drugs

By Elizabeth Yuncken

Our man Ludwig, well coiffed. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Our man Ludwig, well coiffed. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

This is the story of a little plant that has connected two great nations – Australia and Germany.

Exactly 200 years ago, an explorer and naturalist was born in a far away land called Prussia (today we know it as Germany). His name was Ludwig Leichhardt, and he decided to explore the land and environment of a vast country called Australia. On one of his expeditions in Queensland he found a tall bush that had never been named or described by Europeans. He brought a bit back to Sydney, along with lots of other important and unknown-to-Western-science plants and animals.

Later that century, a German Baron called Sir Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von Müller was working as the Victorian Government botanist and as the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. He described (in scientific Latin) the tall bush, and the plant was named after Ludwig Leichhardt: Duboisia leichhardtii.

Not long afterwards, researchers starting investigating the plant for its medicinal properties. It’s high in tropane alkaloids, which do all sorts of funny things to people (actually cocaine is a tropane alkaloid, but it doesn’t come from our bush). Turns out, Duboisia leichhardtii and some of its sister species are great source of the tropane alkaloids atropine and scopolamine.

How good is your Latin? Image: Biodiversity Heritage Library.

How good is your Latin? Image: Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Atropine makes your pupils dilate, so ophthalmologists find it pretty useful to get access to the inside of your eyeball. Scopolamine was used to help cut down the pain of childbirth and to treat some mental disorders, and was then found to help treat bomb shock and travel sickness. That’s my kind of drug!

This is where CSIRO comes in to the story. In the 1940s and 1950s demand for scopolamine and atropine was increasing, so CSIRO started doing some research on our friend Duboisia to see if they could grow it more efficiently and encourage it to produce more drugs.

The good old days in the Drug Plant Investigations Unit. The powdered leaf of Duboisia is placed in flasks with a solvent and agitated for two hours to ensure complete extraction.

The good old days in the Drug Plant Investigations Unit. The powdered leaf of Duboisia is placed in flasks with a solvent and agitated for two hours to ensure complete extraction.

The potential of Mr Leichhardt’s bush got everyone all excited. The West Australian newspaper reported in 1953 that 100 tons of Duboisia leaf were exported that year and ‘there seems little doubt that this Australian plant will ultimately become the chief world source of atropine.’ Huzzah!

Although it may not have quite lived up to the hyperbole, it’s true that Australia still exports Duboisia to a major pharmaceutical company based in (you guessed it) Germany! Germany company Boehringer Ingelheim has around 990 hectares of Duboisia plantations on the east coast of Australia, and they ship the dried leaves to their plant in Germany to extract the active ingredients.

What a nicely completed circle of German-Australian collaboration. Nice work Ludwig!


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