In this issue

Issue 95

Handfish back from the brink
Research into the breeding and biology of the tiny spotted handfish may save the first Australian marine fish listed as endangered, under the Federal Endangered Species Protection Act, from extinction.
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Seeds of an oil-based economy sown in PNG
Studies of leaf oils in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea by researchers from CSIRO's Australian Tree Seed Centre (ATSC) have led to successful pilot-scale production and marketing of an essential oil from Asteromyrtus symphyocarpa, which has valuable medicinal properties.
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Where there's smoke, there may be rain
PACE-5, an international experiment to study how thick smoke affects the formation of rain-bearing clouds, has challenged the theory that increased aerosol particles in the atmosphere decrease the likelihood of precipitation.
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Bugs beware - here comes the good fungus
Hundreds of strains of Metarhizium occur naturally in Australian soils and many thousands more are found worldwide. The fungus offers an environmentally benign form of pest control with different strains active against different insects. During the past 10 years, researchers at CSIRO Entomology have tested strains of Metarhizium against a range of insects. They are now developing a product for termite control. Field trials against some species of sugar cane grubs, as well as locusts and grasshoppers are at an advanced stage, and promising results have been achieved with other sugar cane pests, and crickets in pastures.
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Old minesites meet their measure
A practical, low-cost technique for monitoring the health of landscapes is gaining favour among the rehabilitators of mined land. The technique is based on assumptions about how nutrient cycling is linked to the downslope movement of water through the landscape. Simple assessments of these features enable indices of soil quality, stability and infiltration to be compared over time.
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Deep discoveries
Newly discovered deep-sea mounts to the south of Tasmania have created scientific interest in the variety and number of new species being found in the unique and rich ecological communities more than a kilometre beneath the sea's surface.
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Cunning contraceptions
Researchers at the Vertebrate Biocontrol CRC are developing immunocontraception techniques for controlling rabbits, mice and foxes. The research involves designing vaccines that 'trick' the animal's immune system into treating certain proteins found on sperm and egg cells as foreign, that is, as antigens. The immune system of the vaccinated animal then produces antibodies that bind to these proteins in its own testis or ovary, preventing fertilisation.
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Calicivirus proves effective, but fickle
Rabbit calicivirus (RCV) has hit hard in arid regions, but achieved mixed results in higher rainfall zones. Factors influencing the spread and environmental impact of RCV across Australia are being investigated by the Australian Rabbit Calicivirus Disease Program.
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Rust busters
Plant geneticists are seeking to combat fungal pathogens by fortifying wheat with 'designer' resistance genes borrowed from other species, such as rust resistance genes from flax and maize.
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Ozone warrior
Methyl bromide is rated as 50 times more damaging to ozone than chlorine from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Dr Jonathan Banks, as chair of the UN's Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee, was instrumental in achieving global agreement on the phasing out of methy bromide, despite the tactics of manufacturers and users.
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Big-headed ants march on Darwin
The big-headed ant, Pheidole megacephala is highly aggressive, displacing or eliminating native ants. Accidentally introduced to Australia, it has since infested a 25 hectare patch of rainforest at Howard Springs Nature Reserve, 35 kilometres south-east of Darwin, posing a serious threat to the Top End's biodiversity. Researchers are attempting to find a way of controlling the ant.
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