Australia is home to some of the best researchers in the world, but rarely do we hear about their work in mainstream news. Here’s three fascinating discoveries from recent years.
You’d be forgiven for knowing very little about recent Australian research. We publicise a lot of our sporting wins and losses, but very little about what our brightest minds are learning at a given moment. It’s impossible to redress this in a blog post, of course—but you might find it interesting to know about a few of the home-grown research projects we’ve seen in the last several years.
We’ve known for almost a decade that the milk of monotremes like the duck-billed platypus have a compound with an antibacterial effect, owing to a protein not found in other milk. As the World Health Organisation has declared antimicrobial resistance one of the top ten global public health threats facing humanity, alternative avenues of antimicrobial action are cites of urgent interest.
In 2017, researchers at Deakin University and CSIRO found that the structure of the protein was unique, and located the specific part that they suspect relates to its antibacterial efficacy.
Meanwhile, in 2019, scientists at the University of Sydney observed an Australian native lizard lay eggs and give live birth during the same pregnancy for the first time.
In an evolutionary context, an egg-laying mode of reproduction is typically the predecessor to live birth: viviparity has evolved in egg-laying vertebrates independently more than 150 times. Some species of reptiles can do both, but it’s rare—so rare that of the 6,500 lizard species worldwide, we are aware of 3 that can do both (and, as with many weird animals, the preponderance of those are, of course, Australian). By measuring the changes in gene expression between live birthing and egg laying in the same species, the researchers are learning more about pregnancy and reproduction at a genetic level, which has implications for how it might have evolved in modern humans, too.
And just recently—in the last year—astronomers combined the powers of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) and the highly advanced South African MeerKAT radio telescope with a new technique to detect the brightest pulsar outside of the Milky Way: a super-dense “dead” star that has never before been spotted.
Australia is home to many bright researchers—some of the best in the world. At any given time, they’re discovering new things about us as people, our planet, and even things beyond.
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