It’s getting hot in here… So what does this mean for the ocean?

One day, in the not-so-distant future, the movie Finding Nemo may be seen as an incredibly inaccurate portrayal of life under the sea. And it’s not because of the talking fish.

With climate change heating up our oceans and creating acidification, more and more reports are emerging on the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, or the melting of arctic sea ice.

Aside from destroying reef habitats, new research has found that climate change may also have devastating consequences for the state of marine food webs, with possible collapse on the horizon.

With fish providing people worldwide up to 20% of their animal protein, the breakdown of fish food webs would have momentous consequences for food security.

The beautiful, colourful, and full of life oceans where we imagine Nemo and his friends to live, may soon be a thing of the past.

If you have kids or were a kid in 2003, you probably imagine the ocean to look something like this (Source: Imgur)

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Cancer conspiracies: Research to make you jelly

We’ve all heard the conspiracy – pharmaceutical companies are keeping a cure for cancer under wraps because treating cancer is more profitable.

Now, I don’t tend to make a habit of sticking up for big business, but there are a couple of quick points that suggest this isn’t the case.

  1. There’s more than 200 types of cancer and there’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all cure for all of them.
  2. Some people are already being successfully treated for cancer every day.
  3. It’s not just pharmaceutical companies researching cancer treatment – governments are, too.
  4. AND, scientists are regularly publishing promising findings for the future of cancer treatment, including some promising research that has come out of Korea.

Scientists and diving into their research and coming up with jelly-fied cancer-treating gold

Image of Nomura’s jellyfish from National Geographic

Research in Korea earlier this year showed promising results for treating cancer cells with extract from a Nomura’s jellyfish, which is about the same size as a human.

Although it was highly effective against one type of cancer, chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) cells, it was also found to have an effective against colon cancer and liver
cancer cells.

The scientists found that the jellyfish extract reduced cell growth for each type of cancer cell, although CML cells were particularly susceptible.

CML is a rare form of cancer that affects bone marrow, causing it to produce too many white cells. These cells then eventually crowd the bone marrow, which interferes with the body’s ability to produce normal blood cells. As the body starts to produce abnormal cells, it cannot fight infections properly.

Subjecting these cancer cells to the Nomura’s jellyfish extract resulted in apoptosis, best described as programmed cell death, that increased with both time and dosage.

Scientists already knew that jellyfish extracts have several biological functions, including antioxidant activities. However this study was a first in using jellyfish extract to treat cancer.

This new research doesn’t mean a new treatment is right around the corner, it does show that scientists are invested in finding new ways to understand how cancer cells act and how they can be treated.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of morbidity and death in the world and the global economic impact of cancer is substantial – we’re talking about $1.16 trillion in 2010.

That’s $1,160,000,000,000. That’s enough to buy everybody living in Los Angeles at least one Lamborghini Gallardo, apparently.

And, it’s increasing. I think we can all agree that this money can be better spent.

So next time you hear some talk about the big pharmaceutical companies conspiracy, remind them that there’s enough scientific research out there to turn their knees to jelly.

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Bottoms up! Melting the dark side of Antarctic ice shelves

A map of Antarctica showing major glaciers and all ice shelves coloured to indicate the rate of change of thickness. Sea temperature is also indicated by a colour scale.

Antarctica’s glaciers (grey) extend beyond the shoreline into anchored but floating ice shelves (areas outlined in black using the left scale indicating change of thickness per year where red means thinning rapidly and yellow is steady).
(Source: adapted from Pritchard et al. (2012), Nature, via Antarctic Glaciers.)

Antarctic ice shelves are nature’s buttresses against sea level rise that would devastate our coastal civilisations. New research provides a clearer picture of how climate change will speed up melting of ice shelves from underneath.

Antarctica’s land area is almost completely covered by massive glaciers hundreds of kilometres long and up to 4km high. In many places around the continent, these glaciers extend well beyond the shoreline into thick floating platforms of ice called shelves.

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Hey Fish! Urine Trouble!

Some people might yell, a dog might growl, maybe a deer will clash antlers, but how does the fish (cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher) show aggression?

It pees.

That’s right, twinkle, urinate, take a leak, wizz, whatever you would like to call it that’s how it shows it’s the toughest fish in the tank.

Source: https://68.media.tumblr.com/b89eb712e3dbff7dc065164d2c6519cf/tumblr_nwt08l6dRd1tiaz2oo1_500.jpg

WHY IT MATTERS?

Communication between animals is still relatively hard concept to grasp, with such varying methods and mixed signals between species and populations.

It is however one of the most beneficial ways in learning about our own human qualities.

A great example being the work done by de Waal on chimpanzees and monkeys have shown the importance of cooperation in social groups providing a new perspective on viewing behaviour in humans.

Also, understanding the behaviour of animals can be extremely helpful under conditions where conservation of animals and environment sustainability is threatened.

Also, understanding the behaviour of animals can be extremely helpful under conditions where conservation of animals and environment sustainability is threatened.

THE RESEARCH

A study by three experts from Switzerland involved recording how much and for how long a fish urinated for and what displays of aggression were displayed by rival fish.

The scientists placed two fish in a tank with two barriers, one clear and another opaque and by injecting dye into anaesthetised fish, their pee turned a bright blue colour that was visible in the water.

Bigger fish produced more urine in volume and frequency, however it was interesting to discover that fish urinated the most when they saw the competing fish on the other side of the barrier suggesting sighting of a rival triggers pee impulses.

THE IMPACT

Fish are the only beginning of an endless list of animals that might be showing different behaviour that isn’t physical and can become a new source of knowledge in social interactions amongst species.

This new research can be the start of a new area into animal chemical communication and uncovering unusual behaviours and phenomena witnessed in animals, and possibly our own human chemical cues.

Other research also shows that fish urine contain ammonium and phosphorous which helps coral reefs grow, a crisis that may be solved particularly in our own backyard’s Great Barrier Reef.

WHAT’S NEXT?

For such a new area of research, there’s still a lot to uncover and many more fish in the sea to watch pee. However, you can begin by letting people know how fish communicate, by educating yourself about animal communication.

  • For more information on animal communication topic click here
  • For more about fish pee saving corals click here
  • To thank the team for watching fish pee email here, (or just ask some questions)

It begs the question whether humans ourselves have undiscovered chemicals warding off perhaps certain individuals or perhaps encouraging fighting fish to urinate will save the world one day.

Or just another reminder that peeing in public pools doesn’t make you any new friends, and was never a good idea to begin with.

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A recipe for old leaves

Just how valuable are your garden scraps?

Every year, nearly half of our organic waste gets thrown to landfill, when all of it could be used for other things.  Local councils are slowly introducing collection schemes for people’s leaves, grass clippings, branches and plants.  They use it to make mulch, compost and soil conditioners.

But it could have a lot more potential than that.  In fact, according to this research, it could be a source of some crucial chemicals.

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The Miracle of the Mind: Treating Major Depression with Computers is a Reality

Two blue bars lie horizontal on the computer screen. There is also a dot. It flickers erratically. If you concentrate hard enough, it slows down and lies in between the two lines. That’s the goal. Keep thinking of a happy memory for several minutes and the dot stays in the lines. It sounds like you’re casting a ‘patronus charm’ straight out of a Harry Potter novel. Easy, right? It sure is.

And it turns out it may be the most effective, non-intrusive and possibly most powerful answer to treating Major Depressive Disorder we’ve encountered.

Welcome to the miracle of the mind. Welcome to the new and wonderful science of Neurofeedback Therapy.

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Look out Harry – invisibility cloaks don’t work on Tassie devils anymore

Or at least, not on six very important Tasmanian devils.

A study published in Biology Letters last October studied 52 wild devils, and found six who possessed never-before-seen antibodies against the deadly devil facial tumour disease, or DFTD for short.

Tasmanian devils still need our help (Source: Flickr)

So what does that have to do with invisibility cloaks?

Well, part of what gave DFTD its infamous 100% death rate was that the disease is completely invisible to the devils’ immune system.

This is because of a molecule called major histocompatibility complex class I, or MHC-I. In normal cancers, MHC-I is expressed on the surface, allowing the immune system to identify it as a foreign cell. But in facial tumour disease, MHC-I is turned down, making it invisible.

In the six devils studied, MHC-I was seen to have been turned up again, revealing the presence of the cancer to the immune system.

Miraculously, four of the six devils showed regression of the cancer, making them the first known wild devil survivors of DFTD.

This suggests the wild devils may be able to detect and fight the contagious cancer that has been ravaging the wild population, which is now less than 20% what it was a decade ago.

That’s great! The Tassie devils are saved!

Well… Not quite. Or at least not yet.

Remember, only six out of 52 devils possessed the antibodies, and of these, there were only three ultimate survivors – one of the devils who had showed regression later succumbed to a reoccurrence of the cancer.

Even if the antibodies prove to be hereditary – which is as yet unknown -, that’s a pretty small number of animals to be mounting a state-wide repopulation, let alone the vague discussions of returning the devils to the mainland.

Luckily, that isn’t the end of this story.

The researchers who studied the death-defying devils have been able to use the identification of these antibodies to create an immunotherapy treatment that has been seeing success in saving the lives of other infected devils, who do not naturally possess these cancer-detecting capabilities.

Testing of the immunotherapy is still only in early trials, and more research needs to be done before a vaccine can be completed.

“This is an important step along the way to developing a vaccine to protect against DFTD and potentially for immunotherapy to cure devils of established DFTD,” says Professor Gregory Woods, head of the DFTD research team, to the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal.

Is there anything I can do to help?

Absolutely!

The research is funded in part by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal and the Australian Research Council. Professor Woods has said that the support of these institutions are imperative to continuing research.

The study was undertaken by the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania and aided by the University of Southampton and the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.

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The Universe, Ripping us a New One

As scary as it seems, we might be learning more about how our universe will end…

In a combined study, Astrophysicists from across America and Australia have recently reduced the uncertainty of the Hubble Constant from 3.3% to 2.4%. This means in 9.8 billions years the distance between cosmic objects will double!

Wait… What?

Well to put it in other words, we know the expansion of our universe is accelerating (cheers Schmidtty), and the rate of which is called the Hubble Constant. Contributing scientists to the recent research paper have used Wide Field Camera 3 technology on the Hubble Space telescope, and combined it with Infrared observations of Cepheid variable stars from 11 galaxies!

The Hubble Space Telescope

So basically, Astrophysicists took pictures of distant galaxies over a period of time and combined this with what is called red shift – that noise a car makes when zooming past you – but in this case for a star moving away.

But what does this have to do with the end of life, the universe and everything?

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Eye of the Storm: Climate Change and the Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is dying.

One of Australia’s most spectacular natural wonders is being devastated by the impact of climate change.

Scientists, governments and the media have drawn attention to human induced mass coral bleaching and ocean acidification but have failed to highlight the threat of intense cyclones on the reef.

Healthy Reef (Source: Laura Kent)

A recent paper by researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville rectifies this lack of attention by investigating the threat of the more frequent category 5 cyclones on the Great Barrier Reef.

‘Increases in cyclone intensities alone will cause more pervasive losses of habitat forming corals and fishes, will reduce biodiversity and will increase the vulnerability of coral reef ecosystems to long term degradation’ writes Alistair Cheal the lead author of the paper. Continue reading

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Altering viral genes for safer, higher efficacy immunisation

Immunisation remains a globally cost-effective method for reducing disability, disease and death. But researchers face the constant challenge of increasing both vaccine safety and efficacy. A challenge also seen in parental hesitancy towards child immunisation.

New research has found a way to combat both these aspects: by making the highest efficacy type, live attenuated vaccines, even safer.

Vaccine efficacy and safety are a constant challenge and concern. (Source: SBS)

White blood cell memory

Vaccines work by introducing a small dose of a disease-causing pathogen (usually viruses or bacteria) to create a memorable immune response.

Upon detecting pathogenic invasion, various types of white blood cells will act. Some work like experienced soldiers — directly battling the pathogen. Others act like soldiers in training — remembering the pathogen to be ready to battle if re-invasion occurs.

For viruses, how well the training soldier cell recalls is dependent on what form we deliver the virus in.

The efficacy and safety trade-off

Inactivated and live attenuated vaccines are the two main forms of virus delivery.

Inactivated vaccines have lower efficacy in inducing a memory response as the vaccine only includes part of the virus or its dead form. It’s hard to know who to battle by only recalling parts of them. But it’s also a safer vaccine as the virus cannot replicate to actually cause the disease.

In live attenuated vaccines, the virus is in its full living form, inducing a higher efficacy memory response. However, this poses the risk of the virus replicating.

Past methods to remedy this involved replicating the virus in harsh conditions to make it weaker — but that replicating potential still exists.

Viral Genes

The Influenza virus. (Source: ABC News)

This new research is revolutionary in altering the genetic blueprint of the influenza (common flu) virus, making it unable to replicate.

A series of different codes make up the blueprint for replication in all organisms. When the replicating machinery analyses these codes, the code order ensures exact selection of the same proteins that make up the organism.

Certain blueprint codes stop the replication process when the machinery analyses it. By altering existing codes into such codes, the replication process terminates prematurely. The virus can’t successfully replicate, making a safer live attenuated vaccine possible.

The future of immunisation

While the research requires further testing, researchers are confident we can adapt such methodology for all kinds of pathogens causing diseases.

When faced with the choice of immunising ourselves and people in our care, we no longer have to compromise. A safer, higher efficacy vaccine will exist.

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