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More Indigenous doctors aim to close Australia’s health gap

Vinka Barunga was born in the Worrara tribe of the Mowanjum Aboriginal community in the remote town of Derby in Western Australia. As a child, she witnessed disease and suicide amongst her people, which made her resolve to one day become a doctor and help break this cycle of suffering. She is one of six, the largest cohort of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) students, to graduate in Medicine/Surgery from the University of Western Australia this year. Australia has fewer than 300 Aboriginal doctors, but things are gradually changing. Vinka is determined to be the first full time doctor in the town of her birth, situated around 2,400 kilometres north of the state capital Perth in the Kimberley region. It is the gateway to the state’s resource rich north, surrounded by mudflats on three sides, with two distinct seasons.

Australia's No to Prohibit-Nukes Resolution Triggers Debate

As the curtain falls on 2016, the year that marked the fifth anniversary of Fukushima and the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl nuclear disasters, sending a sombre reminder of the devastating humanitarian and environmental consequences of these weapons of mass destruction, the resolve to free the world of nuclear weapons is stronger than ever before. The United Nations Resolution A/C.1/71/L.41, which calls for negotiations on a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading toward their total elimination”, was adopted at the 71st session of the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on October 27, 2016 with 123 members, including nuclear North Korea, voting in favour of taking forward the multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, 38 voted against and 16 abstained. Australia, once a champion of nuclear disarmament, chose to oppose the Resolution even as the continent country’s nearest 26 neighbours in the Asia-Pacific voted in favour alongside African, Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Grass enzymes could raise rice, wheat output

Australian researchers see potential for increasing yields of staple crops like wheat and rice by transplanting into them enzymes taken from the common panic grass (Panicum spp.). Lead researcher Robert Sharwood from the Australian National University (ANU) says, “We are aiming to enhance the growth and yield of crops by transplanting more efficient forms of the rubisco enzyme into them. We found considerable variability in the efficiency of rubisco from different panic grasses that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to enable its conversion into carbohydrates under a wide range of temperatures.”

Protests in Australia Against Adani Coal Mining Project

The Adani Mining Pty Ltd is confident of commencing construction of the Carmichael mine by mid-2017, which will be Australia's largest coal mine, despite growing concerns and protests from environmental and indigenous groups that it will jeopardise the Great Barrier Reef and Aboriginal heritage. There were protests in Melbourne and Townsville, where Adani announced that he will set up the headquarters of the project. These groups are calling on the Australian government to invest in solar energy rather than coal, while the proponents for the mine say it will create jobs and boost the local economy. The Adani Group is also planning solar projects in Australia with a capacity of 1,500 MW within five years. The coal projects are yet to reach financial closure.

New HIV vaccine strategy targets body’s mucosal sites

A recombinant rhinovirus (common cold virus) used along with an injection of DNA-based vaccine can activate the immune system against transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) via mucosal sites, say researchers in Australia. Results from a mouse model trial may help develop effective mucosal HIV-1 vaccines in the future. Unlike previous vaccine trials, the new approach offers protection at mucosal sites — vaginal or rectal — that are most likely to encounter the virus first.

Want to smash the pay gap? Here’s why it requires collaboration

Elizabeth (Libby) Lyons has been director of the WGEA for just over a year now, so it’s a good time to take stock, particularly given the recent figures showing the gender pay gap hasn’t altered much and is currently at 16.2 per cent. But Lyons is a pragmatist. “The pay gap has hovered between 15 and 19 per cent for the past two decades. We need to be realistic; it’s not going to change overnight. My focus is on working with employers to create a sustainable momentum for change,” she says.

From Kannada rock to Sufi gospel: India puts its soft power on show in Australia

Cultural diplomacy is putting a positive spin to the India-Australia bilateral relationship and also enriching the Australian economy. The first ever Confluence Festival of India in Australia, touted as one of the largest ever foreign cultural festivals to be organised in the continent country, rolled out 25 productions showcased over 70 different events at iconic landmarks across seven cities. For decades, India's soft power potential has remained largely untapped, but the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government has been focusing on raising India’s profile in the international arena through cultural diplomacy.

Joining the dots

In the grainy red sand, Anangu Aboriginal artist Sarah Dalby, 42, glides her fingers to draw a collection of symbols to demonstrate how the Aborigines have been passing knowledge about their land, culture and traditions from one generation to the next. It is a warm spring afternoon in Yulara, the resort town in Australia’s Red Centre desert, and I am in the town square for a 90-minute Maruku Arts dot painting workshop. Dalby draws concentric circles, linking them with lines to depict a journey from one place to another. She then etches crescent-like shapes, representing men and women squatting on the ground, and envelopes them with more symbols that embody desert flora and fauna.

Oswals seek a fresh start as legal drama ends

Indian industrialist couple, Pankaj and Radhika Oswal, have left Australia perhaps never to return, after settling a multi-billion-dollar legal stoush with one of Australia’s leading banks, the Australia and New Zealand [ANZ] Banking Group. The commercial settlement, the terms of which are confidential, reached on September 22 resolves the A$2.5 billion claim made by the Oswals against ANZ over a dispute about the receivership and sale of Burrup Fertilisers Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Burrup Holdings Limited, in 2010. It has cost ANZ over A$200 million, tens of millions in legal fees and a dent in its reputation. In a statement, ANZ announced that the net pre-tax impact of the settlement will be reflected in an additional provision charge of approximately A$145 million to be taken at the Full Year 2016 results.

Body's own cancer-busters

In recent years, researchers have made significant strides into finding a cure for cancer, which claim 8.2 million lives annually. Cancer immunotherapy, which relies on harnessing the body’s own immune system to fight malignant cells, is the new frontier for treating cancer alongside the conventional therapies—surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Globally, more than 100 clinical immunotherapy trials for a whole range of cancers are underway.

Polio survivors face new disability

With polio now occurring in just two countries — Afghanistan and Pakistan — investments in medical aid and healthcare now deemed urgent for polio survivors as they battle the onset of the post-polio syndrome (PPS) decades after first contracting the disease. The first Australasia-Pacific Post-Polio Conference held in Sydney (20-22 September) discussed the treatment options focusing on neurological and biomechanical decline due to PPS in ageing polio survivors as well as the challenges of preventing and treating severe deformities in young polio survivors mostly in developing countries who will need help for years to come.

Business communication: How to say what you actually mean

‘The medium is the message’ said media theorist Marshall McLuhan. Clear, concise and convincing writing is the key to driving home the message whether it is writing an email, a staff review, a project report or a business proposal. But in the world of 140-character Twitter and paperless offices, effective and persuasive business communication is found wanting – and human resources is among the worst culprits. 

Zika outbreak in Singapore alarms region

Seventeen new cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection in Singapore were confirmed on 6 September by the country’s Ministry of Health (MOH), raising the tally to 275 cases since the outbreak on 27 August. The sudden spike in one of the cleanest countries in the ASEAN region has raised concerns of possible spread to its densely populated neighbours although local transmission of Zika by the Aedes aegypti mosquito has been reported in Indonesia and Thailand.

Uluru Diary: Pitjantjatjara Pit-stop

Australia conjures images of sea and surf, but it’s in the sun and sand of its red centre desert that I discover the country’s spiritual heart. Uluru (Ayers Rock), along with Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), has been part of the traditional belief system of Australia’s first people. The ochre-tinted inselberg stands tall in the vast arid landscape, linking the country’s indigenous Aboriginal past to our present and the future. As the plane begins its descent to the Connellan airport, a glimpse of Uluru’s famous silhouette evokes a sense of awe. The winter sun on the tarmac is comforting as unhurried passengers make their way into the small airport to a pleasant ‘Palya’ or welcome. A relief from the intense security screenings one has to endure at most airports in our post-9/11 world.

Experts eye universal vaccine before next Zika outbreak

Some of the world’s leading experts attending the 16th International Congress of Immunology say the Zika epidemic will be gone in four years but it is still urgent to get a safe and effective vaccine. “We think that the Zika virus will be around for three to four years and it will probably disappear and then reappear in people being born after that, who will be susceptible again. So there's an urgency to have a vaccine for women, who may get pregnant during this four-year time. We have to be very quick,” says Jorge Kalil, head of Brazil’s Butantan Institute and president of the International Union of Immunological Societies.

HIV increases risk of age-related diseases

While combination antiretroviral therapy has meant that people with HIV can live longer lives, research shows that the virus makes fundamental changes to the immune system by increasing the risk of developing age-related conditions. “What we are now realising is that HIV as a disease is really a disease of inflammation. We are able to control the virus, but what remains are the immune dysfunction and dysregulation in patients that are leading to the diseases of ageing such as cardiovascular diseases, bone disease, cancer and diabetes,” Alan Landay, chair of the immunology and microbiology department at Rush University Medical Center of Chicago, in the United States, tells SciDev.Net.

Children in `clean’ environments more prone to allergies

As the world faces a dramatic increase in allergic diseases and asthma, scientists are pointing to the importance of good bacteria in ‘dirtier’ environments. Mark Larché, the Canada research chair in allergy and immune tolerance at McMaster University in Ontario, believes the rise in allergies may be associated with the developed world’s obsession with cleanliness. He says part of the explanation for allergies is that some children grow up in an environment that is too clean for their immune system to properly learn which substances to attack and which to ignore.

Researchers tackle advances in immunology

Immunology today is at the forefront of clinical therapies for diseases from cancer to Zika, providing new hope for global health. This is the key message from the 16th International Congress of Immunology (ICI) which opened Sunday (21-26 August) at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre hosted by the Australasian Society for Immunology and the International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS). More than 4,000 delegates from 70 countries are in attendance to discuss new research and developments in the field of immunological science.

Neil Perry: I view Australia as part of Asia

Neil Perry, the pioneering Australian chef, has been a defining contributor to how the world perceives modern Australian cuisine. It is in Rockpool, at his iconic fine dining restaurant located in the hub of Sydney’s financial district, that I meet him on an unusually balmy autumn afternoon. The dining room is abuzz with men in dark suits on a business lunch, a young Korean couple, perhaps on a life-changing date, an Italian family raising a toast to the parents’ 50 years of togetherness, and a group of women engaged in animated conversation, all relishing the exotic aromas wafting from their plates. The wood décor bathed in mellow light radiates warmth. A friendly waiter ushers me up the stairs to The Balcony Room, where I meet Perry, with his trademark ponytail, in a crisp white shirt and black suit. He is excited about launching his Burger Project in the new St. Collins Lane luxury precinct in Melbourne. I can’t resist stirring the traditional Sydney-Melbourne rivalry. Perry appeases with his disarming smile.

First ever Online atlas mapping oceans’ benefits

The Atlas of Ocean Wealth is out — the world’s first-ever book mapping the benefits of ocean ecosystems to assist governments and businesses make informed decisions and investments for the sustainable growth of coastal and marine resources. Oceans cover 70 percent of the planet, supporting a global seafood economy that accounts for US$190 billion yearly and provides for protein needs of 17 percent of the population. But research shows that fish catches are declining, ocean temperatures are warming, sea levels are rising, and extreme weather events are threatening coastal habitats. A project of the environmental non-profit group The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the atlas compiles spatially explicit information on the benefits of coral reefs, marshes, mangroves, seagrass meadows and oyster reefs. “Think of bundles of ecosystems generating bundles of benefits,” says TNC senior marine scientist and atlas co-author Mark Spalding about the book’s purpose to inform planning for economic development and conservation.

Vivid Sydney: Dancing Lanterns

The advent of winter coincides with Sydney immersing in the warm glow of one of the world’s largest festivals of light, music and ideas. Vivid Sydney, the annual 23-day festival, is showcasing 90 light installations from 23 countries, including India. Mumbai-based artists Vikas Patil and Santosh Gujar have a lighting sculpture named DNA, featuring 24 moving coloured light tubes that continuously spiral around a common core to form a DNA structure. “DNA is an integral part of every ‘being’ and we thought lighting could be an ideal way to represent it. When the DNA is decoded, it creates a barcode of colours. There is an immediate connection to lighting and that’s why we decided to make it our central theme for the sculpture,” says Patil, an architect and lighting designer.

I don’t become the writer, I inhabit the writer’s words: Ann Goldstein, Elena Ferrante’s translator

Ann Goldstein is probably the only translator in the world whose fame comes anywhere close to the writer being translated. That’s because she is the brilliant and celebrated translator of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, a collection of four books that have taken Europe, the UK, the US and now the rest of the world by storm and are set for Television adaptation. Goldstein, whose name on a book adds credence, is the hugely accomplished translator of Italian literary works by prominent authors, besides Elena Ferrante, Jhumpa Lahiri, Primo Levi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italo Calvino and Alessandro Baricco. She heads the copy department at The New Yorker and she is a recipient of PEN Renato Poggioli Translation Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In Australia as a guest of the Sydney Writers’ Festival she spoke to Neena Bhandari about her passion for Italian language, the challenges and future of translation, and the surprising international recognition Ferrante's books have brought her.

Healthcare for world’s adolescents wanting

Global health and development policies must focus on the 1.8 billion young people aged 10 to 24 years to reap a triple dividend that will benefit these adolescents today, into their adulthood and the next generation.  “This is the largest generation of adolescents that the world will ever see. Close to 90 per cent of them live in low- and middle-income countries,” says George Patton, chair of the Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing which launched a report in London last week (10 May) to draw attention to the issue. “If we make the right investments in their health and wellbeing, they will bring ‘demographic dividend’ for the world. If we fail to make investments, there is a risk these adolescents will become a disengaged, lost generation, which will lead to huge social disruption, poverty, mass migration and civil unrest,” Patton tells SciDev.Net


It was never in Jamsetji Tata's ken

© Neena Bhandari, Business Standard, India

ImageThe Tata Group of companies has made big forays into Australia, investing and expanding in various sectors from mining to information technology. Historically too, remote though it may now be, Tata Steel has a connection to the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, which contains 50,000 tonnes of steel. Close to 80 per cent of the steel used in the bridge, spanning 1,650 ft (503 metre), was made by Teesside Company Dorman Long, which became part of British Steel Corporation after World War II. In 1999, British Steel merged with a Dutch company, Hoogovens, to become Corus. In 2007, Corus was bought by Tata Steel.

Tata Steel has had an office in Brisbane since 2000. The original name was Tata International, since deregistered. The principal business activity has been procurement of steel-making raw material in Australasia, predominantly metallurgical coal, for the steel operations in Jamshedpur. “These volumes have continued to grow and are now in the millions of tonnes. Additionally, Tata Steel Resources was tasked with identifying investment opportunities in metallurgical coal mines and made its first overseas coal mine investment in Carborough Downs, central Queensland, in 2005 with a five per cent equity stake. We are now actively identifying new investment opportunities to the increasing metallurgical requirements for the steel mill expansions in India for the next 10 years and beyond,” Bryan Granzien, chief executive officer, Tata Steel Resources Australia Pvt Ltd, said.

Sydney breaks bread with Sangrur - the wheat link

© Neena Bhandari, Business Standard, India

ImageWheat collaboration between Australia and India is likely to be extended, after experiments combining strengths in each other’s varieties show rising promise.

India and Australia are collaborating on research to enhance the volume and quality of grown wheat. The five-year bilateral programme on marker-assisted wheat breeding concludes in May 2012 but is set to be extended.

It has been exploring molecular technologies, management practices and more heat-tolerant cultivars, to face the challenges of climate change. India and Australia are particularly vulnerable to increasing temperatures, warns a leading Australian wheat scientist.

"In Australia, wheat is rain-fed and will be adversely affected by the combined impact of higher temperatures and drought. In India, increasing temperature linked with lowering water tables would mean farmers will be unable to irrigate with the current frequency. This will result in difficult production conditions and reduction in total yield,” says Richard Trethowan, director, A Watson Grains Research Centre, University of Sydney. India is the second largest producer of wheat and Australia seventh in the world. India produces all its consumption; Australia is the second largest global exporter of wheat and, so, a major contributor to global food security.

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