In this issue

Issue 51

Good that fibre does: new findings
Nearly everybody these days has heard about fibre: the clear message from nutritionists around the world is that we should eat more of it. But ideas about what exactly happens to fibre in the human gut have recently shifted quite dramatically.
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Incinerating 'intractable' liquid wastes
At the CSIRO Division of Applied Organic Chemistry, organic chemicals are basic currency - some common, some exotic, a few never even made before. What can be done with the inevitable byproducts of experimental chemistry? Most present no disposal problem, but a small proportion, toxic or hazardous in some way and chemically stable, need special attention.
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Koala's quandary
Take a walk through almost any Australian forest at night and, if you're armed with a good spotlight, you'll have a fair change of seeing at least one of our tree-dwelling marsupials. The most famous of these is of course the koala, but probably the most often seen is the common brushtail possum. Our trees also play home to a host of other furry creatures ranging from tree-dwelling kangaroos (in the rainforest of northern Queensland) to the tiny feathertail glider and the even smaller 'little pigmy possum' that weighs in at about 7 g.
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Satellite eye on soil erosion
Scientists at Alice Springs are using microcomputers to process the extent of soil erosion and to predict where further damage is likely to occur. The low-cost technique promises to take satellite monitoring out of the specialised laboratory and into the office of the land manager or soil conservationist. The keys to the system are Landsat scenes on floppy disk, which have recently become available, and micro-BRIAN, a versatile image-processing system developed from CSIRO research.
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Myrtles, platypus, and fungi
A possible threat is facing Tasmania's cool temperate rainforest and it is not man-made. The story of how a fungus previously unknown to science is infecting and killing the native myrtle beech, the predominant rainforest tree.
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Predicting the environmental effects of mining
On the Queensland coast, between Rockhampton and Gladstone, lies the site for Australia's, and possibly the world's, largest mine. A joint venture, comprising Esso Australia Ltd, Southern Pacific Petroleum NL, and Central Pacific Minerals NL, is conducting a feasibility study of the proposed mine at the Rundle oil-shale deposit, which contains an estimated 4,000 million tonnes of shale. If development goes ahead, each tonne of shale mined will yield, on average, half a barrel of oil. Mining will also produce wastes, of course, from both extraction and processing of the shale. Leaching of pollutants from waste dumps, or accidental spills into the drainage streams, could affect the surrounding environment.
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Sun, skin, and solaria
Sitting in the sun has complicated results as far as our skin is concerned. Work by Dr Adriana Scheibner of the Melanoma Unit at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, and Mr David Hollis of CSIRO's Division of Animal Production confirms that ultraviolet light affects the skin in many ways, doing much more than simply giving Caucasians a bronze glow.
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Search for a chemical agent against AIDS
A group of CSIRO scientists with expertise in designing biologically active chemicals has turned its attention to anti-AIDS agents. The Division of Applied Organic Chemistry group, led by Mr George Holan, is attempting to produce drugs that at least temporarily halt the progress of the diseases.
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Herbs, health, and Heliotropium
An intriguing piece of detective work by CSIRO scientists has helped shed new light on some of the risks associated with drinking certain herb teas. The work stemmed from an incident that occurred in Hong Kong, in which four women drank a herb tea medicine over a number of weeks as a treatment for psoriasis, a skin condition generally found on the scalp. All four eventually developed a severe disorder termed veno-occlusive disease, and one subsequently died.
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New water-purifier
In some parts of the world, the drinking water may contain potentially harmful quantities of various organic contaminants. Such areas are rare in Australia, but concentrations of organic compounds in excess of the World Health Organization's guidelines have been measured in drinking water from parts of South Australia. Ralph Matthews, a CSIRO scientist in the Division of Energy Chemistry, has designed and built an effective alternative, a solar or electrically powered water-purifier for home use that actually destroys these organic compounds.
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Asymmetry: symptom of pollution, inbreeding
Obvious lack of symmetry in living creatures is extremely rare. Only a few animals develop so as to favour the left or right, perhaps the best example being the male fiddler crab, which grows an enormous pincer on one side and a diminutive one on the other. One good reason for staying symmetrical involves locomotion. If one leg were longer than another, or a wing were larger than its mate, the animal would go round in circles.
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