Latest findings about the faces of the Great Barrier Reef

Family swinging chilld walking through shallow water on the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is important for many people’s livelihoods, plays a central role in our culture and is highly valued for its influence of personal wellbeing, according to results from the Social and Economic Long Term Monitoring Program (Image: Matt Curnock).

The Great Barrier Reef is many different things to different people: a tropical playground, a natural wonder, and the domain of Nemo, Dory and Bruce. But it’s  also home to around a million Australians, a booming tourism industry, major exporting ports and countless fishing, farming and agriculture operations.

Indisputably the Reef has immense ecological importance as a unique site of marine biodiversity and is viewed by many as the technicolour jewel in the crown of Australia’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites. The Reef also brings in $5.7 billion annually and generates over 64,000 full time jobs.

These impressive figures however only hint at the full value of the Great Barrier Reef to Australia and Australians.

The future of the Reef is an international issue: just this weekend we saw the US President, Barack Obama, talking about his desire for his grandchildren’s generation to still be able to enjoy the Reef in the way that we’re able to today. Knowing how to plan and manage the best outcomes for it is of the upmost importance.

To derive a clearer picture, we set out to measure the human dimensions of the Great Barrier Reef through the Social and Economic Long Term Monitoring Program (SELTMP).

In the largest study of its kind, we surveyed over 6,000 tourists and coastal residents, as well as over 2,000 Australians outside the region, to understand and measure use and dependency, personal wellbeing and the cultural connectedness of people to the Great Barrier Reef.

It is no surprise we found that we love the Reef. In a snapshot of our results, we found that:

  • a quarter of residents depend on the Reef for their household income
  • many coastal residents feel it is part of their identity and provides a lifestyle they highly value
  • appreciation of the aesthetic values are shared by all visitors and residents
  • threats to the ongoing viability of the reef is a major concern to all user groups, and
  • most coastal residents support regulations to protect the Reef.

ThreatsToReef

The SELTMP was set up to assist reef managers and other decision-makers within the region to incorporate the human dimension into planning and management. Our work is providing information to help government, industry, researchers and communities understand trends, interconnections, conflicts, dependencies and vulnerabilities of  user groups and so develop insights into the complex social and economic conditions of the Great Barrier Reef.

These results represent the current status and condition of the human dimension of the Great Barrier Reef which we will continue to monitor in the future.

The findings of the SELMTP 2013 baseline study were presented at the World Parks Congress in Sydney today. More information on the research can be found at eatlas.org.au/seltmp.

Media enquiries: contact Keirissa Lawson, 02 4960 6286, Keirissa.Lawson@csiro.au.


Sports science is getting gnarly, dude

The future of surfing? Credit: Seth de Roulet / Red Bull Content Pool

A laptop backpack: the future of surfing, or a sure-fire way to get dropped in on? Credit: Seth de Roulet / Red Bull Content Pool

A company more traditionally associated with energy drinks has been busy making waves in the world of sports science. Red Bull recently took two top professional surfers and a team of scientists to Mexico to test a range of new performance-enhancing technologies in one of the harshest arenas possible: an overhead, barreling wave breaking only a few feet over a bed of sand and rock.

We’re all for trying out new technologies in novel conditions, but this was a particularly impressive feat – the surfers were hooked up with all sorts of electronic equipment before paddling out into the lineup and doing their thing. At one point, surfer Jake Marshall even managed to ride some amazing waves with a laptop strapped to his back.

Surfing is a sport that is usually described in terms of instinct, intuition and unpredictability – so studies like this are providing scientists with amazing insights into areas of surfing that have previously held an almost mystical status. As well as hooking up the surfers with wi-fi headsets for instant feedback from coaches on land, and pressure-sensing feet ‘booties’ to analyse and optimise how they controlled their boards, the scientists were even able to measure surfer ‘stoke’ levels using a waterproof EEG.

You can watch the video here:

We’ve done a fair bit of sports science ourselves, too. Most recently, we partnered with Melbourne company Catapult Sports to deliver a new wireless athlete tracking device using our Wireless Ad-hoc System for Positioning (WASP) technology. The device, called ClearSky, gives coaches the ability to monitor their athletes more accurately in indoor and GPS-poor environments.

It works much like a GPS, but instead of using satellites in space, ClearSky uses fixed reference nodes that are located either within or just outside of a building. You can read more about the benefits of it here.

ClearSky can triangulate an athlete’s position to 20cm accuracy. Credit: Catapult Sports

ClearSky can triangulate an athlete’s position to 20cm accuracy. Credit: Catapult Sports

Of course, it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out how useful this technology could be on a cloudy day at a Melbourne AFL match when traditional GPS coverage is low. But it also has great applications for other (editor’s note: wussier) sports that are played undercover, like American football, basketball and soccer.

Indeed, the Catapult client list is a veritable who’s who of the international sporting world: the New York Giants (NFL), Orlando Magic (NBA), AC Milan (soccer), the Socceroos (soccer), Brisbane Broncos (rugby league), New Zealand Silver Ferns (basketball) and dozens of others. Many of these organisations are either already using ClearSky, or are preparing to do so.

Obviously, this is a winning technology that can be applied across a diverse range of sports. Who knows, maybe one day ClearSky will even be used to track the performance of professional surfers in a wave pool in the middle of Melbourne?

But in the meantime, some mysteries of surfing – like why the waves were always better yesterday, who stole my wax, and where surfing commentators get their t-shirts from – will forever remain unanswered.

Find out more about WASP here. 


Usability – it has its own day, but what is it?

smartphones_322Today is World Usability Day (WUD). WUD celebrates the technologies, products and services that improve our lives by doing what they’re designed to do in a way that engages and assists us. And more importantly, it’s a day for encouraging creators, designers and manufacturers to put usability at the forefront when they’re making products.

We’re pretty proud of some of our useable technology – like our smartphone apps. We’re leveraging a technology that’s well on the way from being popular to being ubiquitous, and creating applications and services that can make a big difference to a wide range of people.

Take people who’ve had heart attacks, for instance. Nowadays, a lot more people survive heart attacks than in the past, but post-heart attack rehab remains a problem. It used to involve travelling to an outpatient clinic or similar centre, and there was a considerable dropout rate from the program. This is a problem, because patients who successfully complete cardiac rehab following a heart attack have much better health outcomes.

They are less likely to have another cardiac event, be readmitted to hospital or die from their condition. So we developed a smartphone home care delivery model – known as the Care Assessment Platform. A clinical trial found that people were almost 30 per cent more likely to take part in their rehab program at home using the app than those who had to travel to a clinic.

What’s more, people using the app were 40 per cent more likely to stick to the program and almost 70 per cent more likely to see it through to completion. That’s REAL usability.

Of course, the best treatment for heart attacks is not having one in the first place. As we all know, weight is a factor in heart disease. And certainly, keeping your weight down is a very, very good thing to do after a heart attack. We’re hoping we can help there too.

We’re currently working with Bupa Health Foundation on a trial of smartphone apps to assist with dieters’ mood and motivation. Face-to-face support is often the best way to succeed on a diet, but this is not always possible, and it can get expensive.

old handsBut a weight loss app can give advice at a single swipe, providing regular daily reminders and support.

So you’ve survived a heart attack and done the rehab using an app. And you’ve lost weight. That means you’ve got more chance of living to be old. We’ve been working on apps to help with that, too.

Our Smarter, Safer Homes project is looking at ways to keep older people living safely in their own homes for longer. This not only takes pressure off the aged care home sector, but also improves older people’s health and wellbeing.

Our app involves placing simple sensors such as motion detectors and energy sensors placed around the home. These monitor the person as they go about their day and report the data back to family members or carers.

For example, motion sensors can detect whether a person got up at the usual time, put the kettle on, regularly cooked food for themselves, and even if they left the oven on.

The data is also reported to a tablet device owned by the elderly person, who retains full control over what data gets reported to others and what stays private.

SoilMapp screen

SoilMapp screen

Not all our work on apps is in human health. There’s one for soil health too. SoilMapp is designed to make soil information more accessible for Australian farmers, consultants, planners, natural resource managers, researchers and people

interested in soil. It provides direct access to the best national soil data and information from several sources.

With SoilMapp, users can find information on soil depth, acidity, salinity, soil carbon, soil water holding capacity and other attributes in a matter of minutes, anywhere there’s a wireless or internet connection.

We’ve also counted koalas using an app, and we’re looking at doing many more things with this technology.

Even the first version of the iPhone had more computing power than all of NASA had for the Apollo 11 mission, so there’s plenty of opportunity to make use of the potential of smartphones. That very usable thing in your pocket just keeps on getting more so.


The eyes have it: Is this our next Australian of the Year?

 

Dr Yogi Kanagasingam

State finalist in the Australian of of Year awards, Dr Yogi Kanagasingam

Meet Yogi Kanagasingam. Yogi works at our Australian e-Health Research Centre and his vision is to change the way eye care is delivered around the world to prevent needless blindness.

A ‘serial inventor’, Yogi has developed a number of low-cost diagnostic technologies that are used to take images of our eyes.  These devices are helping in the early detection of serious conditions, ranging from those that directly threaten sight, through to stroke and Alzheimer’s Disease.

By focusing on affordable, mobile solutions, he is bringing quality eye care to thousands of patients who might otherwise have gone without.

Recognising this passion and dedication, Yogi has been named as a WA finalist in the 2015 Australian of the Year Awards. Here are just some of the sight-saving (and often life-saving) projects he’s working on:

Saving sight in remote communities

Regular eye tests are important. They can be used to pick up many diseases including diabetic retinopathy – one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness in Australian adults.

However due to the remoteness of some Australian communities, it can be very difficult for people to access this type of specialist care.

That’s why we’ve been working with our partners in Western Australia (Gold Fields and Great Southern) and Queensland (Torres Strait Islands) to set up remote eye screening – giving hundreds of people access to eye testing services.

This is possible thanks to technology Yogi has developed called Remote-I.

Using Remote-I, local clinicians are able to conduct routine retinal screenings, often as part of scheduled health clinic visits. The system then sends hi-res retinal images to a city-based specialist ophthalmologist via satellite broadband – allowing them to accurately diagnose and refer patients who need immediate treatment.

A retinal image

Retinal images and electronic patient files are sent to city-based ophthamologists.

 A global vision for eye care

Now Yogi and his team are taking Remote-I to the world. For the past year, they’ve been working with the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Centre in China’s Guangdong Province to introduce the technology throughout a network of ten hospitals.

With a population of over 100 million people in Guangdong, local health professionals are now using the technology to screen up to 1000 patients per week. That’s a lot of eye tests.

As well as giving patients access to specialist care, this project is also providing the research team with valuable data about blood vessel patterns in retinas. This will allow them to design algorithms that could be used to automatically detect particular eye diseases, aiding diagnosis in routine screenings.


Early detection of Alzheimer’s

Using curcumin (a compound in the spice turmeric), Yogi and his team have also developed a spice-infused eye test for Alzheimer’s disease.

Patients ingest the curcumin which binds to beta-amyloid plaques (the sticky proteins that indicate Alzheimer’s) showing up in retinal scans as bright spots which can be counted and measured.

Early results show the amount of plaque in the retina closely mirrors the amount in the brain. If confirmed, this could be the beginnings of an easy, non-invasive test for early detection of Alzheimer’s – maybe up to 20 years before cognitive symptoms appear.

Bright spots showing Alzheimer's plaques in retinal scan

Amyloid plaques, a sign of Alzheimer’s, show up in retinal scan as fluorescent spots as curcumin binds to them

 

We’re proud as punch of Yogi. As well as the groundbreaking work he is doing with us here at CSIRO, he is also giving back to the community in his personal time. Yogi is actively involved with local Rotary Clubs, including Freshwater Bay Rotary in WA where he helps promote regular eye screening for primary school children. This can make a big difference to students, as early detection of vision abnormalities can improve both academic and sports performances.

We wish Yogi all the best this Saturday when the WA Australian of the Year will be announced at Government House. WA’s winner will then join recipients from other States and Territories as finalists for the National Awards, to be announced on Australia Day 2015.

Read more about our eHealth research on our website.


The Adventures of Rosetta and Philae

Artist's impression of the Philae lander on the surface of the comet. Image: ESA

The European Space Agency is set to make a daring attempt to land the Philae probe on the surface of an icy comet.

The giant antenna dishes of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex are supporting the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft, relaying data that the refrigerator-sized Philae probe has commenced its descent to the unknown surface of Comet 67-P Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Nearly 450 million kilometres from Earth and travelling at 18 kilometres per second, the bizarre ice, dust and rock strewn surface of the 5 kilometre long, 10 billion tonne comet called Churyumov-Gerasimenko will be stage for one of the most daring landing attempts in the history of space exploration.

The Rosetta spacecraft drops off the Philae lander for a 7 hour descent towards the comet's surface. Image: ESA

After a 10-year journey, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft arrived at the comet (also known as Comet 67P) in August 2014. For the past several months Rosetta scientists have been using the spacecraft’s instruments to analyse and photograph the comet’s surface looking for a potential landing site. Several candidate locations were chosen but one, ‘Site J’, seemed to present the best chance for a successful touchdown of Rosetta’s ‘Philae’ probe on the comet’s unexplored surface.

Comet 67P Churyumov Gerasimenko is a relative newcomer to the inner solar system, possibly originating from the Oort Cloud. Image: ESA

Site J, now called Agilkia (after an island in the Nile River), however, only offers the instrument-laden Philae lander a 75% chance of a safe touchdown at 3.02am (AEDST) on Thursday 13th November. Low gravity, car-sized boulders, 30 metre cliffs, deep holes and an unknown surface composition are just some hazards that the unaided robotic probe will have to face.

Keeping an eye on events as they unfold will be the giant antenna dishes of NASA’s Deep Space Network and those of the European Space Agency, which have tracked the spacecraft throughout its 10 year adventure.

Deep Space Station 34 in Canberra is supporting the European Space Agency's daring comet mission. Image: NASA/JPL

At the CSIRO-managed Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), Deep Space Station 34 (DSS34) will listen in on relayed signals from the Rosetta mothercraft as it releases the Philae probe on a 7-hour descent towards the comet’s surface. Along withESA’s New Norcia antenna near Perth, separation of the two craft will be confirmed late Wednesday evening (12th November). DSS34 will provide ongoing back-up communication coverage between the Rosetta/Philae spacecraft and the anxious science team located at ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

The path Philae will take to the comet's surface. Image: ESA

As the Earth continues to turn and the spacecraft fall out of Australia’s view, the Canberra and New Norcia antennas will hand over to sister stations in Spain and Argentina for the last leg of the journey and the historic touchdown signal on Thursday morning (13th November).

Follow the adventures of Rosetta and Philae. Image: ESA

The European Space Agency has been doing a remarkable job engaging the public in this great adventure. You can following along with the events of Rosetta and Philae’s great adventure on their mission blog. ESA is also broadcasting live coverage of the descent and landing. Updates also via Twitter – Rosetta | Philae

This originally appeared on the CSIRO Universe blog.


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.


Making molecules crystal clear

A crystal image of a breakdown pathway of atrazine

A crystal image of a breakdown pathway of atrazine

The International Year of Crystallography is drawing to a close, and we’re not going to let it finish without showing you something about what crystallographers do. Which is not what most people would assume when they hear the word: there are crystals involved, but it’s not exactly the study of crystals as we generally think of them. It’s the study of how matter is organised, using crystals as a tool.

Now, naturally we want to know how matter is arranged. Apart from being very, very interesting to find out about, it also helps in many different fields, from drug delivery to materials science. In fact, it was crystallography that provided – controversially – the key to understanding the structure of DNA.

So assume you want to look at something in the greatest possible detail, seeing its smallest possible components. Obviously, you’d use a microscope. But there’s a limit to the smallness of things you can see that way: the wavelength of the light human eyes see. Visible light has a frequency of between roughly 400 and 700 nanometres, and can’t detect atoms, which are separated by 0.1 nanometres. This is the perfect frequency for X-rays.

We can’t make appropriate X-ray lenses to make x-ray microscopes to study molecules: we have to do it in a roundabout way. We beam X-rays onto crystals, scattering the rays, in just the same way that light reflects when it hits an object. Then we use a computer to reassemble the rays —the diffraction pattern —into an image. The diffraction of a single molecule would be so weak that we couldn’t get any meaningful information from it, so we use crystals, which have many molecules in an ordered array, to amplify the signal so we can see it. Crystals are highly ordered structures, made up of 1012 or more molecules, makes the x-ray diffraction patterns — the main tool of crystallography —possible to analyse.

Crystallographers were among the first scientists to use computers, and used them to do the advanced calculations needed to reassemble diffraction patterns into coherent images. That’s why it seemed fitting to name our supercomputer after the founders of crystallography – Lawrence and Henry Bragg. Lawrence was the first person to solve a molecular structure using x-ray diffraction.

Today we can not only view molecules in 3D, but also study the way they operate. Improvements in x-ray machines have also led to synchrotron facilities, which can produce far more efficient and precise beams.

And speaking of synchrotrons …

One of our crystallographers, Tom Peat, has deposited more than 120 structures in the Protein Data Bank using data collected at the Australian Synchrotron. They were all derived from crystals developed in CSIRO’s Collaborative Crystallisation Centre.

This is one of our favourite structures.

AtzF structure (the Australia crystal)

AtzF structure (the Australia crystal)

It’s the structure of AtzF. This enzyme forms part of the breakdown pathway for atrazine, a commonly used herbicide. We’re trying to understand enzymes better and use them for bioremediation – cleaning up environmental detritus such as pesticides and herbicides – and we’ve now solved the structures of four of the six enzymes involved in the atrazine breakdown pathway. We also look at protein engineering, to see if we can make these enzymes even more effective at cleaning up the environment.

Before we get to the crystal image, there are other steps on the way. First, someone has to grow the crystals (clone the protein, express it, purify it and crystallise it). Then it’s off to the Synchrotron to get a data set (many diffraction images in sequence). Here you can see an actual protein crystal.

An actual protein crystal

An actual protein crystal

The picture on the right is the diffraction image.

Diffraction image

Diffraction image

The crystallographers measure the intensity of the reflections (the dark dots). They combine that with the geometry and use some complicated maths (a Fourier Transform) to produce an electron density map. They then use that map to build a model.

Not all our crystallography work is in the same area. We also work on some pharmaceutical applications. One of our projects, with hugely important implications for human health, is on the design of desperately needed new antibiotics.  We’ve been collaborating with Monash University, looking at the pathway that sulpha drugs (such as sulfamethoxazole)– the ones we used to treat bacterial infections prior to the discovery of penicillin – take to treat Golden Staph infections in humans. The aim is to design new antibiotics that target the same pathway. You can read a paper that describes our recent findings in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, and here’s a picture of what we’ve been doing.

Golden Staph treatment pathway

Golden Staph treatment pathway

We think this deserves its own Year. And we hope it’s clear just how important it is. Crystal clear.


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