Three ways we’re helping combat diabetes

When it comes to our greatest fears, we’re not a particularly logical bunch. Surveys commonly show that we tremble at the thought of public speaking, creepy crawlies or visiting the dentist.


While we understand that these fears are irrational, these aspects of life still seem to get our stomach churning.
Conversely, one area many of us don’t seem too worried about is our health. In particular, the very real risk of developing diabetes.

A new survey has shown that nearly 80 per cent of Australian adults do not believe they are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is despite evidence that over 2 million of us already have pre-diabetes and are at high risk, and many more Australians are at medium risk of being diagnosed with this serious condition.

While these figures are concerning, the good news is that in almost 60 per cent of cases, type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed through early detection or lifestyle changes. Making simple adjustments to reduce weight and improve health can make a huge difference to your outlook.

This is where we come in. Through our research, we’re coming up with practical ways to help everyday Australians combat diabetes. These include:

  1. Our Diabetes Diet and Lifestyle Plan –  a guide to help Australians make the best diabetes management choices, in order to live full and satisfying lives. It’s got all sorts of helpful info, including how the glycemic index works.
  2. Our Diabetes Recipe Book this collection of recipes will help you manage your weight and feed your family and friends healthy, satisfying and tasty food. It contains a variety of yummy meals such as this teriyaki pork and stir fried greens.
  3. Our research is leading to new products that are keeping you healthy such as BARLEYmax – a natural wholegrain with enhanced nutritional benefits. BARLEYmax contains twice the dietary fibre of regular grains, four times the resistant starch and has a low GI.
Grilled salmon

Grilled salmon with crunchy cabbage salad from the CSIRO and Baker IDI diabetes recipe book.

This week is National Diabetes Week, which aims to raise awareness of the seriousness and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Check your risk here or learn more about other ways  CSIRO is keeping you healthy.

From critters to creeks – everything you need to know about our sunburnt country

Whether it’s bagging a barramundi, eye-balling an emu, or sitting under a snow gum, Australians love getting out amongst nature, and our scientists are no different. For nearly 90 years we’ve been counting, tracking, measuring, recording, and analysing Australia’s amazing plants and animals. And in that time, you’ll be glad to hear we’ve learnt a thing or two. In fact, we’ve learnt so much we’ve written a whole book about them!

Front cover of the CSIRO's Biodiversity BookLaunched today, Biodiversity: Science and Solutions for Australia aims to provide the latest scientific knowledge on Australia’s biodiversity in an engaging and clear format. The book describes the ancient origins and unique features of Australia’s plants, animals and ecosystems, and looks at how they are currently tracking. It highlights indigenous perspectives on biodiversity and describes how Australia’s biodiversity interacts with agriculture, the resources sector, cities and with our changing global environment. Perhaps most importantly, it also identifies practical solutions for managing Australia’s globally unique natural assets.

We’re so keen to share what we’ve learnt that we’ve made the book available for free. You can download your free copy from The book is available as PDFs or as an interactive eBook, which contains interviews with the authors, links to additional videos, animations and articles, and detailed information about every species mentioned in the book via the Atlas of Living Australia.

Prefer to watch and listen rather than read? Then the good news for you is that today we’re also launching a series of video interviews that will give you an insight into different aspects of biodiversity – from farming, to forestry to fishing. If you like what you see and hear you can then download the relevant chapter to learn more.

First up is an interview with Dr Steve Morton who explains what biodiversity is and why it is important to all of us, often for different reasons.

The spice is right: how curry and the cloud may improve Alzheimer’s testing

By Carrie Bengston, James Davidson and Olivier Salvado

Mmm . . . lovely! A hot Indian curry is simmering away on the stove on a wintry night. The smell of spices fills the kitchen. One of the spices is turmeric, from the ginger family. Its vibrant yellow colour comes from the compound curcumin which is finding a use in clinical tests for Alzheimers disease (AD).

Who knew? Soon everyone will! We’re presenting our research this week at a major conference in Copenhagen, AAIC2014.

Indian curry in a dish

Curry night! The golden yellow spice turmeric contains curcumin – a key ingredient of a new eye test for Alzheimer’s

A clinical trial of the spice-infused eye test is being led by our own Dr Shaun Frost and team, with WA’s Edith Cowan University, US company NeuroVision Imaging, and the McCusker Alzheimer’s Research Foundation in Perth. Several hundred volunteers have taken part. They include healthy people, mildly cognitively impaired people and patients with AD. It’s all part of the Australian Imaging Biomarkers and Lifestyle study of Aging (AIBL)

The trial asks volunteers to come along to two visits for retinal fluorescence imaging, ie an eye scan. This is quick and painless. Patients sit in front of a specialised camera and a photo is taken of the retina at the back of their eye.

Patient having eye scanned by researcher

Dr Shaun Frost takes a photo of the back of a patient’s eyes, not for Instagram but for a clinical trial

Between visits, volunteers eat some curcumin which binds to beta-amyloid plaques, the sticky proteins that indicate Alzheimers, and fluoresces. The plaques (if there are any) show up in the eye scans as bright spots which can be counted and measured. The data is then used to calculate a special number for each patient, a retinal amyloid index (RAI), and compared between healthy, mildly cognitively impaired and AD patients.

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

Encouragingly, as we announced this week, early results show the amount of plaque in the retina closely mirrors the amount in the brain. If confirmed, retinal imaging may be the beginnings of an easy, non-invasive test for early detection of AD. Combined with results of cognitive tests and other markers it could help doctors diagnose AD more confidently.

Eye scans like this also find plaques when they’re smaller than the ones in brain scans, potentially finding signs of AD earlier – maybe up to 20 years before cognitive symptoms appear. If diagnosed, AD patients could start treatment sooner and have regular eye scans to see which treatments work best for them.

Brain imaging on the cloud

From curry to the cloud. More research presented this week is about more accurately interpreting brain images sometimes used to diagnose AD.

To get a brain scan, a patient lies on a bed in a large machine like a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Positron Emission tomography (PET) scanner. These machines record a series of images through the brain, which are then visually checked by a radiologist who compiles a report for the patient’s doctor.

This visual inspection can be subjective, tedious and time consuming. But recent advances in scientific computing and machine learning allows systems to accurately measure features of the 3D scan, such as brain size or concentration of a tracer molecule, that support a diagnosis.

Using these techniques, a new trend is emerging for improving radiologists’ productivity. Scanners and specialised medical software can report quantitative values and compare them to the values expected for normal, healthy patients – just like blood test results from a pathology lab do.

Our researchers, led by health imaging specialist Associate Prof Olivier Salvado, have just released a new cloud computing application, MILXCloud, that automatically delivers standardised radiology reports.

brain surface showing the concentration of a radioactive dye imaged by PET scan

Our new software, MILXCloud, automates brain scan analysis and reporting on the Cloud

Users will be able to upload a PET scan and within 15 minutes be emailed a one page quantitative report showing a diagram of the brain with colour coded values compared with what’s normal. This data will help support diagnosis by the radiologist and enhance delivery of eHealth services.

Whether it’s curry or the Cloud, the future of Alzheimer’s detection sure looks bright.

Media: Andreas Kahl  |  0407 751 330  |

Bush food, people, country and all things

By Andrea Wild 

The Arrente people are the traditional owners of a vast expanse of land that surrounds Alice Springs, rich with mountain ranges, waterholes and gorges. Their long history with the region has given the Arrente community a deep knowledge and understanding of the landscape and natural environment.

We’ve been working with a senior Arrernte woman, Veronica Perrurle Dobson (AM) and other expert knowledge holders, to gain a better understanding of local indigenous knowledge systems, and how they can be applied to natural resource management.

The study came about because scientists and non Indigenous Australians often regard nature and culture as separate entities. They tend to think of resource management as something that people do from outside the ecosystem, rather than within it.

The Arrente people have a distinctly different worldview. In Arrente eyes, the relationship between people, resource species, land, and spiritual domains are interconnected.

Working with Veronica, two of our scientists Fiona Walsh and Josie Douglas have developed a tool to describe this philosophy called the Anpernirrentye (un-burn-i-rrin-cha) framework.

The framework, compiled from traditional sand drawings by Veronica, reveals three major interrelated domains of the Arrernte people’s world view: Apmere (Country), Tyerrtye (People), and Altyerre (Dreaming, Creation time).

traditional sand drawings by Veronica

Traditional sand drawings by Veronica

Veronica herself describes Anpernirrentye as: “The connections between plants, society, country, and laws and all things. It describes how these are related. These are related through skin and kin names. I want people to see how everything is connected. It is the connections that identify us as who we are.”

The research is informing conventional natural resource management practices, allowing land managers to reassess their approach. Through this research they are able to better draw on the deep knowledge and experiences of Indigenous people.

NAIDOC week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Read more about the Anpernirrentye framework, or watch the video.

At CSIRO we are working alongside Indigenous people and organisations to better collaborate and exchange scientific and indigenous knowledge, improving the health of our country and communities.

Fiona with Veronica

Fiona with Veronica

Soaking up the sun’s rays

Ever dreamt of charging your phone on the fly? Or thought about how the plants outside your house could power your home? Imagination could become reality thanks to Dr Scott Watkins and the clever folks in our flexible electronics team who are creating new ways to soak up and store the sun’s rays.

Watch this video to discover how photovoltaic cells could turn every surface – from your jacket to your car door to your rooftop – into a source of energy.

This post originally appeared on GE Reports

Want to know more? This solar energy project has been made possible by the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC), which is a partnership between CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and Monash University. Learn more here.

Keeping your wine delish


As the weather turns dark and dreary, many of us are choosing to stay indoors and seek comfort in a nice bottle of red. After all, when it’s drizzling outside it’s hard to beat a rich pinot by the fireplace.

In Australia, we’re lucky to enjoy some of the best wine in the world. In fact, Australia’s wine and grape industry has been one of the nation’s great agricultural success stories. Last year we produced over a billion litres of wine. Shiraz was our number one drop of choice, followed by a Cabernet Sauvignon.

It’s clear, when it comes to wine, we’ve struck it rich. But many wine enthusiasts don’t realise one of the reasons for this is the science behind our grapevines.

We’ve been looking at how different rootstocks – the underground part of the vine – reduce the impact of salty soils on the appearance and taste of wine. While the prospect of ‘salty wine’ might sound like a first world problem, it’s actually becoming a widespread concern in viticulture as climate change brings longer, hotter and drier summers.

Our scientists recently carried out trials in South Australia that examined the salt tolerance of eight commercially available rootstocks.

“We had a particular interest in how much salt might have accumulated in the juice and carried through to the wine, and just what that accumulated salt did in terms of how the wine looks and tastes,” said principal investigator Dr Rob Walker.

Dr Rob Walker

Dr Rob Walker (photo credit: Carl Davies)

This led to the creation of a rootstock Salt Tolerance Index based on characteristics such as yield, leaf area, sodium concentrations and wine colour density. Salt tolerant rootstocks appear to work by limiting chloride accumulation in leaves and fruit through lower root to shoot transport.

As well as providing an insight into saltiness, the study also provided valuable data about other wine attributes related to the rootstocks, such as differences in flavour intensity and colour.

It is hoped that the research, funded by the Australian Grape and Wine Authority, and the wine sensory evaluation carried out in collaboration with the Australian Wine Research Institute, will lead to the development of new rootstock types designed specifically for Australian conditions.

Read more about how we’re keeping your wine tasty (and not too salty) on our website.

Mite as well call Australia home – the immigration success story of the redlegged earth mite


Picture bean plant damaged by redlegged earth mite

Redlegged earth mite damage on a faba bean

By Adam Harper

Whenever communities emigrate from far away, they do their best to adapt and succeed in their new environment. Some groups succeed better than others. One population of Australian immigrants has been particularly good at adapting – the rather aptly named Halotydeus destructor, more commonly known as the redlegged earth mite (RLEM for short).

These pinhead-sized pests emigrated from South Africa in the early part of last century. They’ve settled into their new home so well that they are now the most expensive pest for Australian grain growers, at least in southern Australia, causing losses of about $45 million a year. An infestation is a triple threat – it can kill seedlings, reduce productivity and quality of older plants and lower the seed yield in spring. Pesticide treatment for RLEM costs about $20.5 million a year.

Picture of redlegged earth mite

The redlegged earth mite has adapted well to Australian conditions

Not only are they the most expensive pest, they are also showing resistance to some insecticides. What’s more, they’re expanding their range into climatic regions in Australia different from the ones they occupied in their native South Africa. We don’t yet know how far they are capable of extending their range. All these factors mean RLEM could spell disaster for grain growers. Fortunately University of Melbourne PhD student Matthew Hill recently completed his research on this problem.

In collaboration with his supervisors at The University of Melbourne and CSIRO, Matt found how the distribution of RLEM had changed in Australia and what this may mean for grain growers. He used historical data collected on RLEM to show how it is expanding its distribution. His research will help growers not affected by RLEM understand the risks RLEM could pose.

RLEM was first found in WA in 1917. By the 1920s it had spread to Victoria. Its ability to use a wide range of host plants (grain crops, pasture species, clover, and many broad-leaved weeds) meant that it spread easily and quickly. Matthew compiled three data sets, showing the recorded distribution of RLEM in its native South Africa, its invasive range in Australia in the 1960s, and its present-day range in Australia. He used these to develop models describing the environmental conditions this mite experienced in each case. His models show that RLEM has expanded beyond the range predicted by its distribution in South Africa. Today, RLEM can be found in hotter and drier inland regions of Australia.

Several factors may have helped RLEM expand into inland Australia. First, changing farming practices have meant a greater uptake of minimum or no tillage systems, as well as an increase in area under irrigation in the eastern states. Second, climate changes such as a small increase in winter rainfall may have also helped. Third, and perhaps most worryingly, RLEM may have undergone an adaptive genetic shift.

That means Australian RLEM populations may have different physiological traits that make them more tolerant to these new dry and hot environments. When Matthew compared mites from Australia and South Africa, the Australian mites were able to move around at higher temperatures than those from South Africa. Australian mites also recover more quickly from damaging cold temperatures. This shows that RLEM has adapted well to its new Australian home. However, the question still remains; how far is it capable of expanding its distribution?

Matt Hill gathering samples of mites in southern NSW

Matt Hill sampling mites from roadside vegetation in agricultural areas of southern NSW

Dr Garry McDonald at the University of Melbourne has been developing models that predict the risk of a RLEM outbreak each season, based on the weather patterns in a region. RLEMs are generally active in the cool, wet part of the year. Eggs laid in spring go into a suspended growth state over summer to protect them from drying out. Identifying the weather conditions that trigger egg hatching as the autumn weather cools is a crucial part of Garry’s models. Discovering these triggers will help growers more accurately predict when to watch out for RLEM. To discover exactly what the triggers are, Garry compiled data from various research trials conducted by state departments, CSIRO and universities over the past 50 years. He is now using this data to tease out the climate triggers for egg hatching. So far he has found that rainfall, then temperature, act in concert to regulate egg development and hatching.

Interestingly, the triggers in the western region appear to be different from those in the southern-eastern region. This supports some of Matthew’s findings that suggest there may be un-documented differences between populations in the western and southern-eastern regions. Once these triggers are validated across a range of sites, Garry can determine if they will be useful for growers currently managing RLEM, and whether different management strategies should be developed for the two regions.

Current research is aimed at giving growers advance notice of the risk or severity of an RLEM outbreak. However, to confidently predict outbreak risk, the factors that influence RLEM at both the regional and field levels need to be combined.

The work was funded by The University of Melbourne, CSIRO and the Grains Research and Development Corporation, and conducted as part of the National Invertebrate Pest Initiative.

For further information please contact Dr Nancy Schellhorn NIPI Leader


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