Fishing for answers to the AFL’s tanking issue

The AFL season kicked off this weekend. Image: Flickr via Sufw

The hallowed MCG at night, where teams compete for premiership glory. Image: Flickr via Sufw

By Cassandra Leigh

The first round of the Australian Football League season always brings with it a sense of unpredictability and a few surprises. Your most optimistic hopes can rapidly give way to despair, as your team plummets towards the wrong end of the table. Sometimes it’s impossible to predict.

Maybe its injuries, the umpires or maybe your young core just isn’t stepping up as you would hope. Whatever the case your preseason predictions are looking hopeless, and your fantasy football team looks even worse.

But if you think managing your SuperCoach team is rough, spare a thought for the professional sports managers, trying to get the right mix of youth and experience at their clubs. You might even feel for the AFL itself, as the administrators try to manage the strength of its 18 teams and make sure the league is competitive.

This is no simple task. But what if there was a way to accurately predict the team or leagues response to various strategies before they are implemented? We have developed many sophisticated simulation models for a wide range of situations: from energy efficiency to responses to flood events, and now we have a model that can help answer AFL’s big questions thanks to Tuck and Whitten.

We’re not talking about AFL legends, Michael Tuck and Ted Whitten. We’re talking about our own Dr Geoff Tuck and colleague Dr Athol Whitten, who use computer simulations of fisheries such as blue grenadier to inform stock management systems. And now, they have applied these modelling skills to understand the dynamics of sporting leagues.

Turning our knowledge of stock management in fisheries into insights for the AFL. Pictured here - Macruronus novaezelandiae (blue grenadier)

Turning our knowledge of stock management in fisheries into insights for the AFL. Pictured here – Macruronus novaezelandiae (blue grenadier)

Footballers are like fish. We’re not talking about the obvious examples of Paul Salmon, Cameron Ling, or Anthony ‘couta’ Koutoufides here either.

Sporting leagues and fisheries are both complex dynamic systems. Players are recruited, grow in ability and retire – just like fish (although this retirement often involves tartare sauce). Both systems have mechanisms in place to manage stock performance. When a fishery has low stock, catch quotas are limited. When an AFL team is under-performing, they get an injection of talent through the AFL draft, which is designed to balance the scales.

This brings us to an issue that has all fish concerned: tanking.

Tanking is the practice of deliberately weakening team performance to finish lower on the ladder in order to gain an advantage through the draft. When a team’s results start looking a bit fishy, you know fans will be angling for answers and a way to stop this practice.

By applying our fisheries management modelling Tuck and Whitten tested sporting leagues with various draft systems, comparing incentives to tank and measures of competitive balance. They considered various draft systems and the basic reverse-order draft, used by the AFL, was shown to create the greatest incentive for teams to tank. Not that we’re letting the teams in question off the hook.

This graph show's how the reverse-order draft is throwing out fishy statistics. CV represents league evenness.

This graph shows how the reverse-order draft is throwing up some fishy statistics. CV represents league evenness.

These results should be of interest to managers of major sporting leagues, as the reverse-order draft system is not only used by the AFL but also in North American sporting leagues, including the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Basketball Association (NBA).

You can find more information about Dr Geoff Tuck and Dr Athol Whitten’s research here.

New weapon against deadly Hendra virus

a micriscopic image of Hendra virus - bright organge cellular shape encapsulated in bright blue ring on yellow background

Electron micrograph of Hendra virus.

Last week Queensland’s Department of Heath announced they will soon begin testing a human antibody treatment against the deadly Hendra virus with the help of humans.

‘Hendra’ is a potentially fatal virus that can cause disease and death in horses and, occasionally, people. The virus is found in flying foxes, which are interestingly naturally immune to it.

The announcement of human trials is particularly exciting for us because of our intimate history with this virus and our involvement in the development of the monoclonal antibody in question – m102.4.

Hendra virus first came into the spotlight in 1994, when Queensland horse trainer Vic Rail, his stable hand and many of his horses, became ill to a mystery disease. Working with the then Queensland Department of Primary Industries (QDPI) our crack diagnostic team isolated and identified the virus, naming it Hendra after the Brisbane suburb where the outbreak occurred.

medium close shot of grey horse with neck over a wire fence

The Australian Veterinary Association recommends that all horses in Australia are vaccinated against the Hendra virus.

Sadly Vic and 14 of his horses succumbed to the virus, and since then several more outbreaks have occurred in horses in both Queensland and New South Wales. Of the seven human Hendra virus cases in Queensland, four people have sadly lost their lives.

Fast forward 19 years from the initial discovery and we have the development of the Equivac® HeV, the world’s first commercially available Hendra virus vaccine for horses – an achievement that was the culmination of a scientific and collaborative journey.

We have proven that this vaccine protects horses from a lethal exposure of the Hendra virus six months post vaccination, but what about protecting the health of people living and working around these beautiful animals?

The recent development of the ‘seek and destroy’ human monoclonal antibody known as m102.4 was truly a global effort. Our scientists were instrumental in the preliminary in vitro and in vivo (animal studies) work undertaken at the sophisticated high containment facilities at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) and provided critical expertise on the Hendra virus at the highest level of biosafety.

The laboratory-produced molecule works by attaching itself to the Hendra virus, preventing it from causing an infection.

The purpose of administering the monoclonal antibody is to treat Hendra virus infection in people and to improve the survival rate of those who have come in contact with infected horses. Although m102.4 has already been used on compassionate grounds to treat eleven people, ten of whom survived, no formal human safety trials have yet been undertaken. This is where the volunteers come in.

two female scientists conducting experiment in lab, fully suited in fully enlcosed biocontainment suits

Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) has been actively involved and has worked closely with QDPI and Queensland Health in each recorded Hendra virus incident since it first emerged in 1994.

Queensland’s Department of Health is seeking local volunteers for phase 1 safety trials of m102.4 which will be run at the Q-Pharm clinics at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute under the supervision of Princess Alexandra Hospital’s respected Hendra virus specialist Dr Geoffrey Playford. You can find out more about the trial here.

The m102.4 was developed by Dr. Chris Broder at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Maryland USA. Queensland Health has further developed the antibody (with funding from Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology) by purifying and making safer for human use. Queensland Health has developed batches of m102.4 to ensure sufficient supply for compassionate use. 


5 egg-cellent tips for staying healthy this Easter

Get out and enjoy this Easter weekend. Image: Pixabay/ Engel62

Get out and enjoy this Easter weekend. Image: Pixabay/Engel62

As you tuck into your crème eggs, dark chocolate bunnies and scrumptious hot cross buns this Easter long weekend, remember that decadent treats and weight management don’t always have to be mutually exclusive.

While many famous diets confine themselves to only a small handful of food groups, the reality is that a diverse, well-balanced food intake is the key to long-term health. Sure, egg eating contests and buns swimming in butter are a one way ticket to weight and cholesterol gain. But at the same time, there’s no need to lock yourself in a paleo cage for the weekend and throw away the key.

Professor Manny Noakes, Research Director of our Food and Nutrition Flagship and co-author of the Total Wellbeing Diet, has given us her Top 5 tips for staying healthy over the Easter period.

Go dark on chocolate

Not only are dark chocolate eggs (or bunnies, bilbies and possums) more flavoursome than regular chocolate, they’re also healthier. Dark chocolate contains less kilojoules and is a source of polyphenols, which are good for our health and wellbeing.

Expensive tastes are also preferable. Generally speaking, the higher the quality of chocolate, the better it is for you.

Don't get cross with the hot cross bun, we all need to exercise restraint.

Don’t get cross with the hot cross bun, we all need to exercise restraint. Image: Wikipedia

Enjoy hot cross buns in moderation

Hot cross buns are usually made with white flour and refined sugars, making them less than ideal for weight control. But you don’t have to eliminate treats such as hot cross buns from your diet. If you feel inclined to indulge, enjoy a hot cross bun without guilt. The Total Wellbeing Diet allows for a moderate daily serving of an indulgence food. Just make sure to go easy on the butter, and avoid buns infused with choc chips. You could also consider baking your own hot cross buns using wholemeal flour, and minimising any added sugars.

Stay active

It’s more than likely your Food Unit intake will be going up over the Easter holiday period, so try to get some runs on the board in terms of exercise. You’ve got the time, so use those days off over the long weekend to burn extra calories through a variety of different workouts. Choose activities that use the major muscle groups in your body, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, paddling or swimming, and aim to go for a little longer than normal. Gym classes like Pump or spin also offer good variety, and rev up your metabolism in the process.

Celebrate in small doses

If you have any family or social functions over the Easter weekend, be mindful of your alcohol intake. It’s loaded with calories, stimulates your appetite, reduces your will power, and can lead to fatty binges the next day when consumed to excess. Set yourself a limit of 1-2 alcoholic drinks, and space them out by drinking a glass of water in between. Drinks with a lower alcohol content are better for you, so consider light beers or a wine spritzer (wine with soda water). In addition, be mindful of your portions of the nibbles that often accompany alcohol, such as potato crisps, cheese, crackers and creamy dips.

A plate of prawns and salad

It certainly is a ‘Good’ Friday when prawns are involved.

Say it with seafood

With many people abstaining from red meat on Good Friday, it’s a good time to boost your fish and seafood intake. All seafood is rich in protein and healthy omega 3 fatty acids, especially cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that increased blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were associated with a healthier body mass index (a measurement of weight and height), a smaller waist, and a smaller hip size. Plate up your seafood with grilled vegetables or a garden salad. Avoid battered fish and hot chips, or topping your seafood with rich sauces loaded with cream or butter.

If you are after more details, check out Manny’s appearance on Studio 10 yesterday where she stopped by to discuss these tips and more.

And for more information about our Total Wellbeing Diet, visit

3D print your own currency, with P-YOM

Some prototype P-YOM coins.

Some prototype P-YOM coins that we hope will gain currency.


How many times have you dreamed of having your own personal bank? A money maker in your very own garage, bedroom or kitchen that allowed you to, quite literally, create wealth?

Well, thanks to 3D printing – the same technology that’s brought us horse shoes, bikes, and dragons – those dreams are now one step closer to reality. Our scientists have developed a piece of software that will enable 3D printers to print their own money.

The software program, called P-YOM (Print Your Own Money), will allow consumers with currency in Bitcoin and other online money systems to print coins from their own 3D printers. Once downloaded, P-YOM will integrate with most existing commercial and industrial printers to provide an entirely new source of currency generation.

The development has come about following a partnership we recently entered into with the digital currency industry. The industry are looking to trigger a review of online currency by the Australian Tax Office, which decided last year to classify the online money as a barter system, not a recognised currency.

The digital currency industry works like any other national currency – it can be traded for a range of other national currencies at a fluctuating rate and exchanged for a range of goods and services.

But because it isn’t tied to any national financial system, consumers can make anonymous purchases anywhere in the world, making the movement of the currency hard to track.

Internet money - the way of the future? Image credit: Flickr

Internet money – the way of the future? Image credit: Flickr

“We knew of the great work CSIRO did in inventing waterproof bank notes for Australians, so we hoped they could help us create a water-tight currency,” said Ms Julie Kansas, of the online currency traders Rikers Online Financial Liquidities.

“We think if we can physically put our currency into the hands of a few officials at the ATO, they might change their minds,” Ms Kansas said.

Each coin will be electronically watermarked with an individual “barcode” which will allow it to be tracked via the internet.

Lead scientist on the project, Dr Alex Kingsbury, said the team were already seeing the benefits of the new technology.

“We’ve had a limited test run with P-YOM amongst our staff and they absolutely loved it,” she said.

“Three of them have gone on indefinite leave and we haven’t heard back from them since they last contacted us from the French Riviera.”

“We’re also working with the gaming industry on a 3D printer / poker machine prototype, that could literally create its own winnings. It’s a bit of a gamble currently, but we do hope it will feature heavily once we get it right.”

To purchase either the software or a 3D printer, email socialmedia[at]


A cracking eggs-plainer

Get in my belly. Flickr: Allison Marchant

Get in my belly. Flickr: Allison Marchant

By Indra Tomic and Leo Joseph

Five whole days. This seems to be the maximum time that lapses between gold tinsel and Christmas crackers and the onslaught of chocolate Easter eggs beckoning you at every turn at the supermarket. White chocolate eggs, dark chocolate bunnies and chocolate filled with toothache-inducing gooey caramel. They’re everywhere, looking so darn fine and totally irresistible.

But it’s not just supermarket eggs that look darn fine. Nature pulls out all the stops when it comes to real eggs – the kind that hatch and create life.

Now whilst birds are the most commonly thought of animals that lay eggs, there are lots of other vertebrate animals that also lay eggs, from reptiles, to sea creatures and even some mammals. And just as different species of animals tend to look different to us in terms of their physical appearance, so too are their sounds, nests and even eggs.

For birds their egg shape is determined by a number of inter-related factors ranging from the bird’s natural history through to the shape and size of its pelvis. However, not all animal eggs take on the familiar shape of the chicken’s egg – they can be spherical, oval, long and elliptical and some not even egg shaped in the slightest.

Eggs of birds are either uniform in colour or patterned. Some eggs are pale blue, others green or dark brown, but it is fair to say that most birds’ eggs have a ground colour that is some shade of white, blue or brown, and can be patterned with speckles, spots or stripe like effects.

Eggs, glorious eggs.

Eggs, glorious eggs.

So, why are eggs so important?

Eggs are a remarkable form of life and provide us with invaluable information, such as:

  • the animal’s breeding biology
  • patterns in how animals’ relationships have evolved
  • the environmental pollutants at the time
  • and how some birds’ eggs mimic other birds’ eggs.

Animals breeding records

First and foremost, an egg is a superb record of where a species was breeding at a particular point in time.  A clutch of eggs is connected to a geographical location and a particular day, month and year – all of which can be linked to the overall climate and weather of that place at that time of the year.  So, if we want to understand how environmental change will affect the reproductive cycles of birds, particularly migratory species that cover long distances, then the higher the quality of information that we can put into predictive models, the better our chances of getting higher quality and more meaningful results from those models.

Patterns of relationships

Another reason eggs are so important is their ability to help us understand patterns of relationship among closely related species.  A few years ago we uncovered an unexpectedly close relationship of a bird that occurs only in Tasmania and which has the rather old-fashioned English name of Scrub-tit (scientifically known as Acanthornis magna).  For many years bird experts had considered it to be a close relative of the scrubwrens, which are the species of the genus Sericornis. In fact it looked so much like a scrubwren that it was sometimes considered to be a member of that genus.

When we analysed the DNA sequences of both of these birds and their relatives, we learned that Acanthornis was in fact most closely related to a group of three species called whitefaces. Whitefaces live in semi-arid and indeed in some of the most arid deserts in mainland Australia, obviously nowhere near Tasmania and are in the genus Aphelocephala. After checking that no mistakes were made back in the lab, we also noticed that the eggs of Acanthornis, were actually rather distinctive in shape and patterning and a little more like those of whitefaces than of scrubwrens.

Environmental pollutants

Eggs are also useful records of environmental pollutants. Because egg collections represent long time-series, they have been invaluable in determining at what point in time various pollutants began to accumulate in food-chains.

Eggs were a critical part of research that uncovered the adverse effects of the insecticide DDT.  Museum collections of the eggs of raptors, such as Peregrine Falcons, showed that the eggs were becoming thinner over time.  Research eventually showed that this was because DDT in the environment was becoming concentrated up the food chain and was reaching highest concentrations therefore in top predators such as birds of prey. Thinner eggshells meant that the eggs were more prone to breaking, leaving theembryos to die and so raptors were experiencing steep and rapid declines in their populations.

Evolution indicators

There are some birds, such as cuckoos and some finches that lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, leaving them to be cared for and raised by the bird host. These birds are called brood parasites. Depending on factors such as whether the host species’ nest is an open cup or a dome-shaped nest having a concealed nesting chamber, some brood parasites have eggs unlike those of their hosts whereas others have evolved egg patterns that are almost indistinguishable from the host’s own eggs.

Can you spot the imposter? (A: The cuckoo egg is on the right in each of these clutches.) Flickr: Roayl Society / Claire Spottiswoode, Dorothy Hodgkin

Can you spot the imposter? (A: The cuckoo egg is on the right in each of these clutches.)
Flickr: Royal Society / Claire Spottiswoode, Dorothy Hodgkin

All of these research eggs-amples would not be possible if museum collections, such as our own Australian National Wildlife Collection, had not invested time and resources into building and storing egg collections.

Our collection is filled with all sorts of eggs from soft-shelled eggs of lizards, snakes and turtles to hard-shelled eggs such as birds and crocodiles, each of them special and unique, containing a tremendous source of data just waiting to be ‘cracked’ and provide another vital clue to be analysed, whether for distributional and migrational studies of birds, or as indicators of evolution, or as records of environmental pollutants.

Here’s a few of our favourites from the collection:

So, spare a thought for the 20,000 clutches of wonderful little real-life eggs in our collection this weekend, as you chomp through tens and tens of chocolate ones. Ours may not give anyone a sugar-high but they unlock mysteries in the world around us – and that makes them sweeter than chocolate.

The smell of rain: how our scientists invented a new word

Rain: you can tell when rain is coming just by the smell. Flickr/Ulf Bodin, CC BY-NC-SA

Rain: you can tell when it’s coming just by the smell. Flickr/Ulf Bodin, CC BY-NC-SA

By Howard Poynton, CSIRO

Australia’s CSIRO has come up with some pretty amazing inventions over the past 86 years of research, from polymer banknotes to insect repellent and the world-changing Wi-Fi. But we can also lay claim to something a little more esoteric – we actually invented a whole new word.

And no, we’re not talking about one of these new-fangled internet words like “YOLO”, “selfie” or “totes”.

The word is “petrichor”, and it’s used to describe the distinct scent of rain in the air. Or, to be more precise, it’s the name of an oil that’s released from the earth into the air before rain begins to fall.

This heady smell of oncoming wet weather is something most Australians would be familiar with – in fact, some scientists now suggest that humans inherited an affection for the smell from ancestors who relied on rainy weather for their survival.


Even the word itself has ancient origins. It’s derived from the Greek “petra” (stone) and “ichor” which, in Greek mythology, is the ethereal blood of the gods.

But the story behind its scientific discovery is a lesser known tale. So, how is it that we came to find this heavenly blood in the stone?

Nature of Argillaceous Odour might be a mouthful, but this was the name of the paper published in the Nature journal of March 7, 1964, by CSIRO scientists Isabel (Joy) Bear and Richard Thomas, that first described petrichor.

Thomas had for years been trying to identify the cause for what was a long-known and widespread phenomena. As the paper opened:

That many natural dry clays and soils evolve a peculiar and characteristic odour when breathed on, or moistened with water, is recognised by all the earlier text books of mineralogy.

rain 2

Was it something in the soil that gave rise to the smell? Flickr/Georgie Sharp, CC BY-NC

The odour was particularly prevalent in arid regions and was widely recognised and associated with the first rains after a period of drought. The paper went on to say:

There is some evidence that drought-stricken cattle respond in a restless matter to this “smell of rain”.

The smell had actually been described already by a small perfumery industry operating out of India, which had successfully captured and absorbed the scent in sandalwood oil. They called it “matti ka attar” or “earth perfume”. But its source was still unknown to science.

Joy and Richard, working at what was then our Division of Mineral Chemistry in Melbourne, were determined to identify and describe its origin.

By steam distilling rocks that had been exposed to warm, dry conditions in the open, they discovered a yellowish oil – trapped in rocks and soil but released by moisture – that was responsible for the smell.

The diverse nature of the host materials has led us to propose the name “petrichor” for this apparently unique odour which can be regarded as an “ichor” or “tenuous essence” derived from rock or stone.

The oil itself was thus named petrichor — the blood of the stone.

Bring on the humidity

The smell itself comes about when increased humidity – a pre-cursor to rain – fills the pores of stones (rocks, soil, etc) with tiny amounts of water.

While it’s only a minuscule amount, it is enough to flush the oil from the stone and release petrichor into the air. This is further accelerated when actual rain arrives and makes contact with the earth, spreading the scent into the wind.

According to the Nature Paper:

In general, materials in which silica or various metallic silicates predominated were outstanding in their capacity to yield the odour. It was also noted that the odour could be obtained from freshly ignited materials rich in iron oxide, with or without silica.

It’s a beautiful sequence of events, but one that may be hard to visualise.

Thankfully, in a testament to the ongoing scientific fascination with this finding, a team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have just this year released a super slow motion video of the petrichor process in motion.

Using high-speed cameras, the researchers observed that when a raindrop hits a porous surface, it traps tiny air bubbles at the point of contact. As in a glass of champagne, the bubbles then shoot upward, ultimately bursting from the drop in a fizz of aerosols.

The team was also able to predict the amount of aerosols released, based on the velocity of the raindrop and the permeability of the contact surface which may explain how certain soil-based diseases spread.

Lasting legacy

There’s a small body of research and literature on petrichor that’s fascinating in its own right, including Thomas and Bear’s subsequent paper Petrichor and Plant Growth a year after they first named the smell.

So what happened to Joy Bear and Richard Thomas?

Richard Thomas with Joy Bear, studying petrichor (date unknown).

Richard Thomas with Joy Bear, studying petrichor (date unknown).

Richard had actually retired from CSIRO in 1961 when he was First Chief of the Division of Minerals Chemistry. He died in 1974, aged 73.

Joy, aged 88, a true innovator and pioneer in her field, retired from CSIRO only in January this year, after a career spanning more than 70 years.

The joint discovery of petrichor was just part of a truly remarkable and inspiring career which culminated in 1986, with Joy’s appointment as a Member of the Order of Australia for services to science.

We are thankful to both for the lasting legacy on giving a name to the smell of rain and to Joy for the role model she has been to so many women in science.

This is part of a series on CSIRO Inventions.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Read the original article.

The election collection: tracking trends on Twitter

A wordcloud from Vizie, which tracks, integrates and visualises content across social media in real time.

Vizie tracks, integrates and visualises content across social media in real time.

With over 500 million tweets flying around the Twitterverse every day – ranging from the excruciatingly banal to the discerning and insightful – this micro-blogging platform can provide an immediate and detailed insight into public sentiment and community conversations.

It is this vast amount of shared information that makes Twitter a treasure trove of data for future historians. However due to the instant and fleeting nature of the online world, it’s important to record these conversations as they happen so that our history is preserved.

That’s why we’re working with the State Library of NSW to help capture digital conversations on hot topics relevant to the state. And at the moment, there’s nothing on people’s minds (and keyboards) more than the upcoming state election.

As NSW residents prepare to head to the polls this weekend, the library is collating and archiving publicly available Twitter activity as part of its efforts to capture and document events of historical significance. They are collecting public conversations about the economy, big and small personalities, fundraising, the media and a broad range of local and global issues.

This is all possible thanks to our social media monitoring software called Vizie.

Vizie is a web based platform that tracks, integrates and visualises content across social media in real time. It also allows users to collect swathes of tweets based on a particular hashtag or topic so that they are preserved for the future.

For the NSW election, the library is capturing the tweets of the majority of candidates running – that’s over 200 Twitter handles. It’s also collecting discussions about parties and interest groups and tracking topical issue such as #csg and #polesandwires.

So far almost 400,000 election-based tweets have been captured and preserved.

This digital record will add to the library’s extensive election archive which dates back to the 1840s and 50s. This is full of artefacts such as newspaper clippings, electoral flyers and how to vote cards which show how political campaigns, the act of running for candidacy and voting has changed over the decades.

You can keep up to date on the library’s efforts by following the conversation at #electcollectnsw. Read more about our suite of social media tools on our website.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,579 other followers