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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

Mining nod for Adani’s Australia project stirs debate

As coal prices slump and demand dips — and notwithstanding the continuing legal challenges by environmental and indigenous groups — the Queensland government has approved three mining leases for Adani Mining Pty Ltd’s (AMPL) Carmichael coal mine, rail and port project. Touted as Australia’s largest coal mine, the AUD 16.5 billion (USD 12.5 billion) project has been labelled “commercially unviable”. There are fears that it could also impact local communities as well as the Great Barrier Reef. The three mines for which leases were granted on April 3, 2016 contain an estimated 11 billion tonnes of coal that can be used for power plants. AMPL, a subsidiary of India-based Adani Enterprises Ltd, has announced that it hopes to begin construction next year and focus “on the conclusion of second tier approvals and resolution of legal challenges”.

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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.

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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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