UNSW Sydney – Australia’s Australia
UNSW Sydney, a Powerhouse of Cutting-Edge Research & Teaching in the Asia-Pacific. UNSW Sydney is Ranked 45th in the 2018 QS World University Rankings, Welcome to Australia’s Global University.
Next-generation drones could learn from bumblebees' amazing flight - UNSW Newsroom
Small insects understand how big they are, and can use that information while flying in a complex environment, new research shows.
Research lead author, Dr Sridhar Ravi, studied how bumblebees navigated through a tunnel with a series of gates featuring different-sized holes. The bees were able to successfully fly through the apertures, thanks to a remarkable sense of their own size and a detailed perception of the obstacles openings. Dr Ravi said that by scanning the aperture, bumblebees were able to skilfully fit through the gates by manipulating the speed of their approach and posture, even flying sideways when the hole was smaller than their wingspan. A behaviour that required an awareness of their body shape and dimensions relative to those of the obstacles, this is the first time such evidence has been seen in flying invertebrates. Previous research had indicated that complex processes, such as the perception of self-size, were cognitively driven and present only in animals with large brains. However, our research indicates that small insects, with an even smaller brain, can comprehend their body size and use that information while flying in a complex environment, Dr Ravi said. Using lateral peering, a process where the bee scans a feature using depth perception and spatial awareness, the insects build a comprehensive map of the aperture and can change their body orientation to fit through the gap, similar to how humans rotate their shoulders to fit through a narrow doorway. We were amazed to see that in some instances, the bumblebees reorientated themselves sideways to fly through gaps they were unable to attempt head-on. The dexterity of these insects has really got us thinking about what other secret bee behaviours we could unlock, Dr Ravi said. The research also provides inspiration to apply the bumblebees attributes to robotics with potential applications for the next generation of drones and autonomous vehicle technology to deal with the challenges of flying in real-world conditions. Insects are fantastic models for robots because they have exceedingly small brains and yet they're able to perform overly complex tasks. Over thousands of years nature has coded insects with some amazing attributes. Our challenge now is to see how we can take this and apply a similar coding to future robotic systems, enhancing their performance in the natural world, Dr Ravi said. The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), is a collaboration between researchers at UNSW Canberra, Bielefeld University, The Max Planck Institute, Brown University and The University of California. Photographs of Dr Sridhar Ravi and videos from the experiment are available online.
How a Queensland sea sponge is helping scientists unravel a 700-million-year-old mystery of evolution - UNSW Newsroom
DNA from the humble sea sponge is shedding light on the "dark matter" that makes up much of our genomes.
DNA from the humble sea sponge is shedding light on the "dark matter" that makes up much of our genomes.Many human traits, such as height and disease susceptibility, depend on genes that are encoded in our DNA. These genes are switched on and off and further fine-tuned by important but hard-to-find regions in the genome. A particularly important class of these regions are known as enhancers, which boost the likelihood that a particular gene will be activated. Trying to find enhancers based on the genome sequence alone is incredibly difficult, like finding a light switch in a dark room. Thats why, until now, there has not been a single example of a DNA sequence enhancer that has been found to be similar right across the animal kingdom. In a new study published in Science, we found that humans, mice, zebrafish and most likely the entire animal kingdom share enhancer regions with a sea sponge that comes from the Great Barrier Reef. Because sea sponges and humans last shared a common ancestor more than 700 million years ago, this means the functional mechanism has been preserved across all this time. Read more: From brittle stars grows a 'tree of life': how genes trace life on Earth What we did Our study involved a team of researchers from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, The University of Queensland, The Centenary Institute, and Monash University. We started by collecting sea sponge samples from the Great Barrier Reef, near Heron Island. At the University of Queensland, we extracted enhancer DNA from the sea sponge and injected it into a single cell from a zebrafish embryo. We found that while the sea sponge enhancer sequences were very different from zebrafish enhancer sequences, they still worked: they successfully and consistently drove the expression of a fluorescent protein in certain types of zebrafish cells. Read more: Animals in research: zebrafish Based on computational predictions, we also identified and tested similar enhancers from humans and mice, to show that these sequences drive the expression of a fluorescent protein in similar zebrafish cell types during development. We discovered that despite differences between the genetic sequences of sponges and humans due to millions of years of evolution, we could identify a similar set of genomic instructions that controls gene expression in both organisms. What this means Our findings represent a fundamental discovery in understanding the connection between our genomes and our physical traits. The sections of DNA that are responsible for controlling gene expression are notoriously difficult to find, study and understand. Even though they make up a significant part of the human genome, researchers are only beginning to understand this genetic dark matter. The work is helping us learn to read and understand the human genome, which is amazingly complex. Knowing more about how our genes operate will also help us understand what goes wrong in disease. An improved understanding of the genome will also help us understand how animals evolve. Read more: Living with complexity: evolution, ecology, viruses and climate change Emily S Wong, Head of Regulatory Systems, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and Senior research fellow, UNSW This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Can ageing really be 'treated' or 'cured'? An evolutionary biologist explains - UNSW Newsroom
As modern medicine improves, so too does our ability to stave off disease. But can we overcome the most inescapable of afflictions - old age? Researchers around the world are trying to find out.
As modern medicine improves, so too does our ability to stave off disease. But can we overcome the most inescapable of afflictions - old age? Researchers around the world are trying to find out.As time passes, our fertility declines and our bodies start to fail. These natural changes are what we call ageing. In recent decades, weve come leaps and bounds in treating and preventing some of the worlds leading age-related diseases, such as coronary heart disease, dementia and Alzheimers disease. But some research takes an entirely unique view on the role of science in easing the burden of ageing, focusing instead on trying to prevent it, or drastically slow it down. This may seem like an idea reserved mainly for cranks and science fiction writers, but its not. The Fountain of Youth, a 1546 painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder. The famous fountain is a mythical spring that supposedly regenerates anyone who bathes in or drinks its waters. Stories of its power have circulated for thousands of years. Wikimedia Commons The futurists quest There have been myriad scientific research efforts focused on stopping or slowing the effects of ageing. Last year, scientists studying the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans (a common model organism for ageing-related research) managed to manipulate its biochemical pathways. The resulting worms lived five times longer than their typical lifespan of 20 days. The length of the telomere has also received a lot of interest. This is a tiny structure within a cell that protects chromosomes from deterioration. One study found a faster rate of telomere shortening resulted in a shorter lifespan in many species, including humans. This suggests if we can protect these structures, we could greatly increase our lifespan. However, telomere maintenance is complex. Also, telomeres can vary in how quickly they shorten, depending on where they are in the body. The drug metformin, usually prescribed to manage type 2 diabetes, has also been touted as a way to delay the onset of a range of age-related diseases, thus increasing health-span (how long we remain healthy). Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Ageing Research at Yeshiva Universitys Albert Einstein College of Medicine, is seeking approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for the first clinical trial of metformin to treat ageing. But other researchers are concerned, as metformin intake has been associated with a higher risk of B vitamin deficiencies. Some studies suggest this can result in cognitive dysfunction. One 2018 study found metformin can reduce aerobic capacity and quash the benefits of excercise something we know to help fight the effects of old age. Metformin also shows mixed results in its effects on ageing depending on which model organism is used (such as rats, flies or worms). This raises doubts about whether its supposed anti-ageing capabilities would apply to humans. Another compound of interest is nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). This naturally occurring substance is vital to energy metabolism in most animals including humans, plants, bacteria and even yeast. In mice and humans, NAD levels appear to decline as we age. NAD and compounds like resveratrol (a chemical isolated from wine) have been shown to work together to maintain the function of our mitochondria the structures that produce energy inside our cells and thus fight off ageing in mice. But this research lacks much-needed human trials. The immortal jellyfish Evolutionary biologists know ageing is a highly plastic process influenced by many factors including diet, climate, genetics and even the age at which our grandparents conceived our parents. But, we dont know why some species age more slowly than others. Research has shown several species appear not to age. For example, the immortal jellyfish Turritopsis dohrnii can revert to a juvenile stage of life and seemingly escape the process of ageing. Turritopsis dohrnii, famously known as the immortal jellyfish, can transform its existing cells into a younger state when suffering starvation, physical damage or other afflictions. Shutterstock To figure out why some species age better than humans, we have to understand so-called epigenetic changes which alter our DNA expression throughout the ageing process. Epigenetic changes are mechanisms that can determine which genes are turned on or off in offspring. They have a huge influence on the course of a species evolution. Understanding these mechanisms could also help us understand why humans and other animals evolved to age in the first place. The culture of DIY biology When it comes to research on ageing, immense interest from the public and large companies has created an environment where its difficult to separate unfounded claims from science. In this grey area, biohackers emerge. Biohacking refers to actions that supposedly let you hack your brain and body to optimise their performance, without traditional medicine. Its proponents often peddle claims exaggerated by cherry-picked evidence. One example is alkaline water, claimed to slow ageing by reducing oxidative stress. Two studies highlight alkaline waters positive effects for acid-base balance in the bloodstream, and increasing hydration status during exercise. But both of these studies were funded by companies selling alkaline water. A systematic review of the literature shows there is no research to support or disprove beliefs about alkaline water being a genuine biohack. There are also bogus young blood transfusions, in which an older person is injected with a younger persons blood to cure ageing. This is a very real and exploitative part of the anti-ageing industry. Even if we could, should we? The concept of fighting ageing has long been woven into the human narrative. But forcefully extending the human lifespan by even one decade would present difficult social realities, and we have little insight into what this would mean for us. Would a cure for ageing be abused by the wealthy? Would knowing we had longer to live decrease our motivation in life? Perhaps its a good thing we wont be diving into the fountain of youth any time soon if ever. Zachariah Wylde, Postdoctoral Researcher in Evolutionary Biology, UNSW This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Heatwave trends accelerate worldwide - UNSW Newsroom
In nearly every part of the world heatwaves have been increasing in frequency and duration, a new study led by UNSW climate scientists shows.
In nearly every part of the world heatwaves have been increasing in frequency and duration, a new study led by UNSW climate scientists shows.The first comprehensive worldwide assessment of heatwaves down to regional levels has revealed that in nearly every part of the world heatwaves have been increasing in frequency and duration since the 1950s. The research published in Nature Communications has also produced a new metric, cumulative heat, which reveals exactly how much heat is packed into individual heatwaves and heatwave seasons. As expected, that number is also on the rise. In Australias worst heatwave season, an additional 80°C of cumulative heat was experienced across the country. In Russia and the Mediterranean, their most extreme seasons baked in an additional 200°C or more. Not only have we seen more and longer heatwaves worldwide over the past 70 years, but this trend has markedly accelerated, said lead author Dr Sarah Perkins Kirkpatrick from UNSW's Climate Change Research Centre and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes. Cumulative heat shows a similar acceleration, increasing globally on average by 1°C-4.5°C each decade but in some places, like the Middle East, and parts of Africa and South America, the trend is up to 10°C a decade. The only heatwave metric that hasnt seen an acceleration is heatwave intensity, which measures the average temperature across heatwaves. This is because globally we see more heatwave days and heatwaves are lasting longer. When the average temperature is measured across longer heatwaves any shifts in intensity are almost undetectable. Only southern Australia and small areas of Africa and South America show a detectable increase in average heatwave intensity. The study also identified that natural variability impacts on heatwaves can be large at regional levels. This variability can overwhelm heatwave trends, so regional trends shorter than a few decades are generally not reliable. To detect robust trend changes, the researchers looked at how the trends had changed over multi-decade intervals between 1950-2017. The changes were stark. For example, the Mediterranean, saw a dramatic uptick in heatwaves when measured over multi-decade spans. From 1950-2017, the Mediterranean saw an increase in heatwaves by two days a decade. But the trend from 1980 to 2017 had seen that accelerate to 6.4 days a decade. The regional approach also showed how the trends vary. Regions like the Amazon, north east Brazil, west Asia and the Mediterranean are experiencing rapid changes in heatwaves while areas like South Australia and North Asia are still seeing changes but at a slower rate. However, no matter whether these changes are rapid or slow, it seems inevitable that vulnerable nations with less infrastructure will be hit hardest by extreme heat. Climate scientists have long forecast that a clear sign of global warming would be seen with a change in heatwaves, said Dr Perkins Kirkpatrick. The dramatic region-by-region change in heatwaves we have witnessed over the past 70 years and the rapid increase in the number of these events, are unequivocal indicators that global warming is now with us and accelerating. This research is just the latest piece of evidence that should act as a clarion call to policymakers that urgent action is needed now if we are to prevent the worst outcomes of global warming. The time for inaction is over.
The world endured two extra heatwave days per decade since 1950 – but the worst is yet to come - UNSW Newsroom
Heatwaves have become longer, hotter and more frequent. This trend is accelerating from climate change.
Heatwaves have become longer, hotter and more frequent. This trend is accelerating from climate change.The term heatwave is no stranger to Australians. Defined as when conditions are excessively hot for at least three days in a row, these extreme temperature events have always punctuated our climate. With many of us in the thick of winter dreaming of warmer days, its important to remember how damaging heatwaves can be. In 2009, the heatwave that preceded Black Saturday killed 374 people. The economic impact on Australias workforce from heatwaves is US$6.2 billion a year (almost AU$9 billion). And just last summer, extreme temperature records tumbled, contributing to Australias unprecedented bushfire season. What are heatwaves? Our new study the first worldwide assessment of heatwaves at the regional scale found heatwaves have become longer and more frequent since 1950. And worryingly, we found this trend has accelerated. We also examined a new metric: cumulative heat. This measures how much extra heat a heatwave can contribute, and the new perspective is eye-opening. What is extra heat? In southeast Australias worst heatwave season in 2009, we endured an extra heat of 80. Lets explore what that means. For a day to qualify as being part of a heatwave, a recorded temperature should exceed an officially declared heatwave threshold. And cumulative heat is generally when the temperature above that threshold across all heatwave days are added up. Lets say, for example, a particular location had a heatwave threshold of around 30. The extra heat on a day where temperatures reach 35°C would be 5°C. If the heatwave lasted for three days, and all days reached 35°C, then the cumulative heat for that event would be 15°C. Another decade, another heatwave day We found almost every global region has experienced a significant increase in heatwave frequency since 1950. For example, southern Australia has experienced, on average, one extra heatwave day per decade since 1950. However, other regions have experienced much more rapid increases. The Mediterranean has seen approximately 2.5 more heatwave days per decade, while the Amazon rainforest has seen an extra 5.5 more heatwave days per decade since 1950. The global average sits at approximately two extra heatwave days per decade. The last 20 years saw the worst heatwave seasons Since the 1950s, almost all regions experienced significant increases in the extra heat generated by heatwaves. Over northern and southern Australia, the excess heat from heatwaves has increased by 2-3°C per decade. This is similar to other regions, such as western North America, the Amazon and the global average. Alaska, Brazil and West Asia, however, have cumulative heat trends of a massive 4-5°C per decade. And, for the vast majority of the world, the worst seasons occurred in the last 20 years. In the heatwave before Black Saturday, 374 people died. Shutterstock We also examined whether heatwaves were changing at a constant rate, or were speeding up or slowing down. With the exception of average intensity, we found heatwave trends have not only increased, but have accelerated since the 1950s. Dont be fooled by the maths Interestingly, average heatwave intensity showed little if any changes since 1950. But before we all breathe a sigh of relief, this is not because climate change has stopped, or because heatwaves arent getting any warmer. Its the result of a mathematical quirk. Since were seeing more heatwaves which we found are also generally getting longer there are more days to underpin the average intensity. While all heatwave days must exceed a relative extreme threshold, some days will exceed this threshold to a lesser extent than others. This brings the overall average down. When we look at changes in cumulative heat, however, theres just no denying it. Extra heat not the average experienced in almost all regions, is what can have adverse impacts on our health, infrastructure and ecosystems. The Amazon has endured 5.5 more heatwave days per decade since 1950. Shutterstock Like nothing weve experienced before While the devastating impacts of heatwaves are clear, it has been difficult to consistently measure changes in heatwaves across the globe. Previous studies have assessed regional heatwave trends, but data constraints and the spectrum of different heatwave metrics available have made it hard to compare regional changes in heatwaves. Our study has closed this gap, and clearly shows heatwaves are on the rise. We are seeing more of them and they are generating more heat at an increasing pace. While Australia may be no stranger to heatwaves in the past, those we see in the future under these accelerating trends will certainly be foreign. For example, a 2014 study found that depending on where you are in Australia, anywhere between 15 and 50 extra heatwave days will occur by 2100 compared to the second half of the 20th century. We can still abate those trends if we work collectively, effectively and urgently to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, ARC Future Fellow, UNSW This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Seasonal sea ice changes hold clues to controlling CO2 levels, ancient ice shows - UNSW Newsroom
New research has shed light on the role sea ice plays in managing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
New research has shed light on the role sea ice plays in managing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.Sea ice across the Southern Ocean played a crucial role in controlling atmospheric carbon dioxide levels during times of past climate change and it could provide a critical resource to improve Earth system models, a new study shows. The paper by scientists from UNSW Sydney and Keele University was published today in Nature Geoscience. Led by Professor Chris Fogwill, an Honorary Professor at UNSW and Professor at Keele University, the international team of researchers demonstrated that seasonal growth and destruction of sea ice in a warming world enhances the amount of marine life present in the sea around Antarctica, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, which ultimately becomes stored in the deep ocean. The Southern Ocean occupies 14% of the Earths surface and plays a fundamental role in the global carbon cycle and climate, says Prof. Fogwill. It has captured around half of all human-related carbon that has entered the ocean to date, and is therefore crucial for regulating carbon dioxide levels resulting from human activity and understanding the processes that determine its effectiveness as a carbon sink through time are essential to reducing uncertainty in future projections. To understand this process further, Professor Fogwill and colleagues studied data relating to a period where atmospheric carbon dioxide levels changed rapidly after the Last Ice Age, around 18,000 years ago, when the world transitioned naturally into the warm interglacial world we live in today. During this period, carbon dioxide rose rapidly from around 190 parts per million (ppm) to 280 ppm over around 7,000 years, but one period in particular stands out; a 1,900 year period where carbon dioxide levels plateaued at a nearly constant level of 240 ppm. The cause of this plateau, which occurred around 14,600 years ago, is unknown, but understanding what happened during this period could be crucial for improving climate change projections. Walking back in time across ice To resolve this question, the researchers travelled to the Patriot Hills Blue Ice Area of Antarctica to develop new records of evidence of marine life that are captured in ice cores. Blue ice areas are the perfect laboratory for Antarctic scientists due to their unique topography. Created by fierce, high-density winds, the top layer of snow is effectively eroded, exposing the ice below. As a result, ice flows up to the surface, providing access to ancient ice below, says co-author and UNSW Sydney Professor Chris Turney. Instead of drilling kilometres into the ice, we can simply walk across a blue ice area and travel back through time. This type of blue ice lets scientists sample large amounts of ice for studying past environmental changes in detail. Organic biomarkers and DNA from the Southern Ocean are blown onto Antarctica and preserved in the ice, providing a unique record in a region where we have few scientific observations, Prof. Turney says. Co-author Professor Andy Baker from UNSW Science says to pursue the idea of using organic matter trapped in ice, he helped to set up a methodology which allowed the team to look at the natural fluorescence of some organic molecules that they found in the ice. We knew this technique had amazingly good detection limits, and we thought we would need this given the small amounts of organic material we expected to find in the ice. We found the organic matter fluorescence signal that is normally associated with microbes. But where did this fluorescent organic matter come from? Because the team could walk across the ice, rather than core it, they could collect larger samples for organic techniques that needed that larger amount for analysis. These showed that the fluorescent organic matter could be identified as coming from the oceans. Transported from the oceans in the air, it was ultimately deposited as snow and preserved in the ice. Increased marine life activity Using this approach, the team discovered that there was a marked increase in the number and diversity of marine organisms present across the 1,900 year period when carbon dioxide plateaued, an observation which had never been recorded before. This is the first recorded evidence of increased biological productivity in the Antarctic zone during that period, and suggests that Southern Ocean processes may have caused the carbon dioxide plateau, co-author Dr Laurie Menviel from UNSW Science says. However, the driver of this increase in marine organisms wasnt immediately clear to the scientists, so they used climate modelling to better understand the potential cause. The modelling revealed that the plateau period coincided with the greatest seasonal changes in sea ice, which occurred during a pronounced cold phase across the Southern Ocean known as the Antarctic Cold Reversal, Dr Menviel says. During this period, sea ice grew extensively across the Southern Ocean, but as the world was warming rapidly, each year the sea ice would be rapidly destroyed during the summer. Our results imply that during periods of Southern Ocean sea ice expansion, high variability in winter and summer sea ice extent may result in increased marine life activity and therefore enhanced carbon capture. The cause of this long plateau in global carbon dioxide levels may be fundamental to understanding the potential of the Southern Ocean to moderate atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the future. We need to understand the ways in which carbon dioxide levels have been stabilised by natural processes in the past. Under future warming, less sea ice will likely mean a weakening of this part of the carbon sink, making it increasingly difficult to meet Australias commitment to the Paris Agreement, Prof. Turney says. Toolkit for future research UNSW co-author Dr Zoë Thomas says the paper is an exciting example of multidisciplinary collaboration. A lot of science can just focus on one specific process such as a physical, biological, or chemical aspect, but this work is a true interdisciplinary collaboration. It's only when you look at the combination of all these different roles that you get the main story while it can be tempting to just go down one route, we got together a big team with a range of different expertise which allowed us to get a broader understanding of the system. This paper will also be known for developing a toolkit of analyses on the trace amounts of organic material in ice, Prof. Baker says. This opens a new door for the global research community who can now think of using organic analyses to understand past climate changes. The researchers will now use these findings to underpin the development of future Earth system models. The coupling of Southern Ocean and ecosystem dynamics in a new generation of models will be crucial for reducing uncertainties around climate projections, and will help society adapt to future warming.
Funding success for research into mental health and suicide prevention - UNSW Newsroom
UNSW Sydney researchers have received funding for projects to investigate the use of internet-based tools in suicide prevention and the affect genetics can have on patients’ response to medicines to treat bipolar disorder or depression.
UNSW Sydney researchers have received funding for projects to investigate the use of internet-based tools in suicide prevention and the affect genetics can have on patients response to medicines to treat bipolar disorder or depression.Researchers from UNSW have been awarded more than $7.5 million in funding for three new mental health and suicide prevention research projects. The funding is part of $20 million additional funding for research to improve mental health care and reduce suicide rates in Australia announced by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt. UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Nicholas Fisk congratulated the researchers on securing 45% of the $17 million funding awarded nationally to date. An increased number of Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime as we battle COVID-19. Research to help reduce the rate of suicide and investigate how pharmacogenomics can be used to tailor mental health prescriptions will be of great assistance to many Australians, Professor Fisk said. Its never been a more important time to prioritise mental health and suicide prevention research. Suicide Prevention Research A project led by Scientia Professor Helen Christensen AO, Director of the Black Dog Institute and Professor of Mental Health at UNSW Medicine is one of three research projects to receive funding to help reduce the rate of suicide in Australia. Prof. Christensen will receive $3.7 million for the Under the Radar Project. This will develop a comprehensive person-centred service for people who are at risk of suicide but have not sought help through formal channels. Between 50-60 per cent of people who die by suicide do not seek help from a health professional for their suicidal thoughts prior to their deaths, Prof Christensen said. However, we know from recent research that the internet is a preferred method of help seeking. Our own data support this around 8000 people a year who complete a self-assessment via our Online Clinic feel suicidal every day but have not shared this with a health professional. We need to reach these people where they are, online, and provide a responsive style of help that meets their needs. While there are clear advantages to an internet-based service, such as accessibility, acceptability, high capacity and low cost, a digital response is likely to be only the start of the comprehensive plan of care needed for someone at risk. Research on the use of pharmacogenomics in providing more effective treatment options Pharmacogenomics looks at how genetics can affect a persons response to certain medicines. Associate Professor Janice Fullerton from Neuroscience Research Australia and UNSW Medicine, and Conjoint Senior Lecturer Doctor Kathy Wu from UNSW Medicines St Vincents Clinical School are leading two of four projects to receive funding to investigate how pharmacogenomics can be used to tailor mental health prescriptions to the needs of each individual and improve health outcomes. A/Prof. Janice Fullerton will receive $1 million to investigate the pharmacogenomic signatures of bipolar disorder to improve treatment outcomes. Bipolar disorder treatment often entails a sequential trial-and-error strategy with different medicines. As a consequence there are lengthy delays in achieving remission of symptoms for those patients who are successfully treated, while many others are ultimately classified as treatment resistant. My team are excited at the opportunity to advance our understanding of the genetic and biological signatures of treatment response for bipolar disorder, to increase capacity for personalised medicine and ultimately improve health outcomes for people living with this major mental illness, A/Prof. Fullerton said. Doctor Kathy Wu will receive $2.95 million to conduct a trial of genotype-guided versus standard psychotropic therapy in moderately-to-severely depressed patients. This project combines new (pharmacogenomics) and emerging (neuroimaging biomarkers) technology with large-scale data, in a novel Deep Learning application, aiming to refine existing tests and enhance precision of psychotropic therapy in depression treatment. The project has potential to change practice, as well as to lead to clinical guidelines and a user-friendly pharmacogenomics support tool. This is a very exciting opportunity to leverage recent advances in genomics to improve the health outcomes of this vulnerable patient population. This project brings together a wide range of expertise with a vision to build a patient-centred mental health service, Doctor Kathy Wu said.
Astronomers find regular rhythms among pulsating stars - UNSW Newsroom
The inner workings of young stars have been identified by an international team of researchers including a UNSW Sydney physicist.
The inner workings of young stars have been identified by an international team of researchers including a UNSW Sydney physicist.By listening to the beating hearts of stars, astronomers have for the first time identified a rhythm of life for a class of stellar objects that had until now puzzled scientists. Their findings are reported today in Nature. The international team of researchers used data from NASAs Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a space telescope mainly used to detect planets around some of the nearest stars to Earth. It provided the team with brightness measurements of thousands of stars, allowing them to find 60 whose pulsations made sense. Previously we were finding too many jumbled up notes to understand these pulsating stars properly, said lead author Professor Tim Bedding from the University of Sydney. It was a mess, like listening to a cat walking on a piano. The incredibly precise data from NASAs TESS mission have allowed us to cut through the noise. Now we can detect structure, more like listening to nice chords being played on the piano, Prof Bedding said. UNSW Sydneys Dennis Stello, an Associate Professor in the School of Physics, was a co-author on the paper. He uses asteroseismology the ringing inside stars from star quakes to estimate the physical properties of stars. In this project, he created models of the stars and matched these to data from the TESS mission, allowing the team to best estimate the true ages of the stars. Some of the big questions in astronomy are about how our own Milky Way formed and evolved over time. Like archaeologists, we unravel its complicated history by age-dating the stars that form the various parts of the Milky Way its original building blocks. With the ages determined from asteroseismology, we gain a firmer picture of the merging events of smaller dwarf galaxies into the Milky Way. The intermediate-sized stars in question about 1.5 to 2.5 times the mass of our Sun are known as delta Scuti stars, named after a variable star in the constellation Scutum. When studying the pulsations of this class of stars, astronomers had previously detected many pulsations, but had been unable to determine any clear patterns. The Australian-led team of astronomers has reported the detection of remarkably regular high-frequency pulsation modes in 60 delta Scuti stars, ranging from 60 to 1400 light years away. This definitive identification of pulsation modes opens up a new way by which we can determine the masses, ages and internal structures of these stars, Professor Bedding said. Daniel Hey, a PhD student at the University of Sydney and co-author on the paper, designed the software that allowed the team to process the TESS data. We needed to process all 92,000 light curves, which measure a stars brightness over time. From here we had to cut through the noise, leaving us with the clear patterns of the 60 stars identified in the study, he said. Using the open-source Python library, Lightkurve, we managed to process all of the light curve data on my university desktop computer in a just few days. The findings are an important contribution to our overall understanding of what goes on inside the countless trillions of stars across the cosmos. Simulation of pulsations in the delta Scuti variable star called HD 31901, based on brightness measurements by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). The simulation has been sped up by a factor of 2646, so that 24 hours of TESS data lasts 33 seconds. Credit: produced by Dr Chris Boshuizen, with assistance from Dr Simon Murphy and Prof Tim Bedding. Asteroseismology The insides of stars were once a mystery to science. But in the past few decades, astronomers have been able to detect the internal oscillations of stars, revealing their structure. They do this by studying stellar pulsations using precise measurements of changes in light output. Over periods of time, variations in the data reveal intricate and often regular patterns, allowing us to stare into the very heart of the massive nuclear furnaces that power the universe. This branch of science, known as asteroseismology, allows us to not only understand the workings of distant stars, but to fathom how our own Sun produces sunspots, flares and deep structural movement. Applied to the Sun, it gives highly accurate information about its temperature, chemical make-up and even production of neutrinos, which could prove important in our hunt for dark matter. Asteroseismology is a powerful tool by which we can understand a broad range of stars, Professor Bedding said. This has been done with great success for many classes of pulsators including low-mass Sun-like stars, red giants, high-mass stars and white dwarfs. The delta Scuti stars had perplexed us until now. A/Prof Stello is excited that asteroseismology a technique previously shown to be powerful for studying stars like the Sun now also seems to be relevant for more massive and typically much younger stars. This research has opened the door to study stars that are different to the Sun, he said. This has potential for improving our understanding of stars more broadly and to use stars as age tracers of the building block of the Milky Way. Isabel Colman, a co-author and PhD student at the University of Sydney, said: I think its incredible that we can use techniques like this to look at the insides of stars. Some of the stars in our sample host planets, including beta Pictoris, just 60 light years from Earth and which is visible to the naked eye from Australia. The more we know about stars, the more we learn about their potential effects on their planets. Poor 'social distancing' The identification of regular patterns in these intermediate-mass stars will expand the reach of asteroseismology to new frontiers, Professor Bedding said. For example, it will allow us to determine the ages of young moving groups, clusters and stellar streams. Our results show that this class of stars is very young and some tend to hang around in loose associations. They havent got the idea of social distancing rules yet, Professor Bedding said. Dr George Ricker from the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research is Principal Investigator for NASAs Transiting Exoplanet Sky Survey, from which the study took its data. He said: We are thrilled that TESS data is being used by astronomers throughout the world to deepen our knowledge of stellar processes. The findings in this exciting new paper led by Tim Bedding have opened up entirely new horizons for better understanding a whole class of stars.