The Best of Australian Science: October 2013

It’s been a long October which brought many exciting, interesting and controversial events in the science online community. Starting with the good news as Peter Higgs was awarded Nobel Prize in Physics, then some not-so-good news surrounding Urban Scientist Danielle Lee and her terrible experience with (now former) editor at biology online – explained more here and here. Then as Ada Lovelace day approached, some other totally unexpected events popped out in the science blogosphere that brought many of us to stop and think about ethics and professionalism, not only in science but in other areas such as internet technologies, the academic world, and so on.

Let’s have a quick look at some of the interesting science-related stories and happenings over the past thirty days, we hope you’d enjoy the most interesting stories for October. Stay curious and scientifically passionate!


Interview: Lana Ostojic, an applied scientist in the field of forensic biology – read an interesting story about this young woman in science

Lana Ostojic is a young applied science professional with the real-world experience in criminal forensics. She is a researcher at the Research and Development Department at the Office of Chief of Medical Examiner (OCME), NYC. Lana is also a PhD candidate at the University of Belgrade, Faculty of Molecular Biology and Physiology. Her primary field is molecular biology and physiology. Read more>>


 Dig down to lift your spirits: soil bacteria act as antidepressants by Alisa Bryce

Have you ever noticed that people who spend more time outdoors, particularly those who garden regularly, are often cheery? While the exercise, sunshine and general health benefits of being outdoors contributes to a happy disposition, scientists have discovered that some of this cheer comes from a certain bacteria that lives in the soil.

Mycobacterium vaccae, a soil dwelling bacteria, has been found to affect our brains in a similar way to antidepressants. It activates brain cells to produce serotonin, a hormone that helps regulate mood and sleep. Low levels of serotonin are often correlated with moodiness, feeling down and depression. Read more>>


A Tale of Two STEM Women by Buddhini Samarasinghe

Ada Lovelace Day is a day for celebrating the achievements of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. Recently, the New York Times published a fantastic article by Eileen Pollack, “Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science”Women were leaving the profession not because they weren’t gifted but because of the “slow drumbeat of being under-appreciated, feeling uncomfortable and encountering roadblocks along the path to success”. In summary, the problem comes down to a lack of adequate support and encouragement for STEM women, whose confidence therefore slowly erodes over time, like limestone in an acid rain. Instead of beautiful stalactites however, we’re left with the ‘leaky pipeline’; the phenomenon where, although there appears to be gender parity, or even a majority, in the number of women in STEM fields at the undergraduate level, the senior staff ends up being almost predominantly male; the women have ‘leaked’ out of the pipeline. Read more>>


What Can Happen if You Say NO, Thank You And You Are a Science Writer? 

This weekend happened something that attracted our attention. Namely, Danielle N. Lee, Ph.D, the Urban Scientist blogger at Scientific American, has been mistreated twice: once by the blog editor at and now by SciAm itself. The blog editor asked Dr. Lee to contribute a blog post at Biology-Online, and when she declined, the blog editor asked her whether she was ‘an urban scientist or an urban whore.’ Then, SciAm deleted her blog post, in which she wrote about the incident.  Below is her original post with the video response. Read more>>


Entelognathus: The Fish with the First Modern Face by Lauren Fuge

Hundreds of millions of years ago, armoured fish dominated the oceans, lakes and rivers of the world. These now-extinct creatures belonged to a class called Placoderms, meaning ‘plate-skinned’ in Greek. They had armoured plates covering their head and thorax, and they were the first creatures to develop teeth, pelvic fins, and most importantly, jaws. Jaws enabled them to become predators, which is thought to be a significant step towards the development of complex creatures like humans.

But for years, there’s been debate over whether placoderms are the ancestors of modern jawed vertebrates, because placoderms have a simple jaw made of one single bone while modern vertebrates have jaws made out of a more complex set of bones. Read more>>


If a bird flies in the forest, does an insect hear it? by Charles Ebikeme

Morpho peleides is a tropical butterfly with a brilliant blue colour. Pilots flying over rainforests have been known to spot large collections of blue morphos above the treetops, warming themselves in the sunshine. The millions of tiny scales on its wings give it a shine and a glean that it uses to scare off predators. In the 115 days of its lifetime, the butterfly will need to fight off predators including birds — who are major predators of many insects including moths, crickets and cicadas. The blue tropical butterfly has ears which researchers believe it uses to avoid predation by birds.

Writing in the journal Biology Letters researchers provide evidence supporting the notion that the ears of an insect can function as “bird detectors”. Read more>>

The Hallmarks of Cancer: Fighting Back by Buddhini Samarasinghe

How can we use our knowledge about growth factors (detailed in the previous articles here and here) to fight back against cancer? This is where the magic words ‘targeted therapies’ come in. Since cancer cells hijack normal growth factor response pathways to become self sufficient, it is logical for us to target these errant pathways specifically. If a growth factor receptor is stuck on ‘always on’, for example as a perpetually active kinase, then finding a specific inhibitor to stop the activity of this kinase would starve the cancer cell of the signal it is dependent on for uncontrolled growth. Read more>>


The Impact of Volcanic Ash Clouds on the Civilized World by Josip Ivanovic

The Hatepe eruption happened in New Zealand’s Lake Taupo somewhere around 180 AD, but the resulting ash cloud caused meteorological disturbances that were recorded by historians from China and Rome. The eruption of Mount Tambora on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa in 1815 was heard a couple of thousand kilometers away and caused a little over ten thousand deaths. However, the resulting ash was spread out far and wide and utterly destroyed the agriculture in the nearby islands, limiting food supply. Famine and illness quickly wreaked havoc among the population.  Read more>>


 Don’t forget to check the Weekly Science Picks #49Weekly Science Picks #50Weekly Science Picks #51,  and Weekly Science Picks #52.


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