Category Archives: Technology

Should Australia allow the creation of babies with DNA from more than two people?

The National Health and Medical Research Council is inviting all Australians to provide their views on the use of a new assisted reproductive technology that might assist in preventing certain rare mitochondrial diseases, but which requires careful ethical and social consideration.  Approximately 20 citizens randomly selected from across Australia are hearing from experts and then preparing their own position statement.

Mitochondrial donation might be able to assist in the prevention of mitochondrial DNA disease in an estimated 60 births per year in this country.  However, there are social and ethical issues to consider including:

  • using mitochondrial DNA from a donor (using IVF technology) so that the child has            DNA from three people
  • the rights of children to know their full genetic heritage
  • the potential risks and benefits of the technology, and
  • the implications of heritable changes for future generations.

Mitochondrial donation is in limited use in the UK and some other countries, but not Australia.  NHMRC is asking the Australian community to consider the social and ethical issues associated with mitochondrial donation and will then provide advice to the Australian Government.

In simple terms, gene therapy allows us to manipulate mutant genes that are at the source of what scientists refer to as biochemical defects.  These can manifest into (the most commonly reported) heart, kidney, skeletal muscle, and brain diseases.  By bringing this technology to Australia, the argument for it is that you could potentially erase such predispositions from your family blood line.



“When our laws were written, mitochondrial donation was not possible. We need to now change the law if it is going to be a possibility, but we need to think about the implications.”
Associate Professor Bernadette Richards, Associate Professor of Law, The University of Adelaide, a researcher in medical law and bioethics and chair of the NHMRC working committee.

“Mitochondrial disease is actually 300 different diseases, so there’s actually quite a bit of variability but many of the children die in the first days or weeks or months of life and we have no effective treatment.”
Professor David Thorburn, geneticist, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, a geneticist researching the genetic basis of mitochondrial disease.

“Mitochondrial donation offers hope for those who wish to have children not affected by mitochondrial disease. However, it is important to ensure that the technology is safe before implementation.”
– Professor Justin St. John, geneticist, The University of Adelaide, an expert in the genetics of mitochondrial disease and genetic modification.


Mapping the trajectory of bullets in shooting victims

Monash University researchers, in collaboration with industry partner Leidos, are working on new technology using machine learning and augmented reality that could one day help forensic investigators track bullet paths in shooting victims.

The project aims to use machine learning to create a digital 3D model of the human anatomy, including entry and exit wounds. This will allow investigators to record the trajectory of the projectile through the body, identify and localise projectile fragments, and may one day be able to assist in determination of projectile calibre and the range from which the projectile was fired. With further development, it could also help investigators determine the type of gun used, and if the wounds were self-inflicted or resulting from attempted homicide.

“Ballistics in forensic medicine has traditionally involved fairly basic analytic techniques, which have not changed for a century,” Associate Professor Richard Bassed, the Deputy Director of VIFM, said. “Before we had CT imaging, we were using x-rays to produce a 2D view of someone’s body, which made localising projectiles and fragments difficult without conducting an internal examination.  Trajectory was determined using basic techniques such as long probes to determine a projectile’s path.  Current imaging techniques can’t differentiate between bullet fragments and foreiygn metal objects, such as a pacemaker or dental fillings.

This technology will allow us to make a 3D digital reconstruction of a shooting victim that we can then slice in multiple planes and directions using advanced computer graphics, including the use of augmented reality. We can then apply machine learning to determine trajectory and projectile fragmentation, and create a 3D-printed model that can potentially be used as evidence in a court of law.”

“So, if we know the weapon and the damage it’s caused in the body, this technology could allow us to provide a more accurate representation of the range, distance and angle from which the bullet was fired,” said Chris Bain, Professor of Practice in Digital Health in the Faculty of Information Technology and Monash University’s Lead for Digital Health. “This approach is much more scientific and rigorous than the way this procedure is currently performed, and fits with recent calls for improved forensic examination practices. The big picture is that post-mortems could be reduced for shooting victims, as this technology has the potential to scan and analyse the body, as opposed to the body being dissected. The technology could streamline workload and time efficiencies, and address any cultural sensitivities that may arise.”

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Worlds Collide: The fashion and technology of Virgin Galactic’s commercial flight spacesuit

Fashion and Technology merge with the New York showing of Virgin Galactic’s spacesuits that commercial passengers like you and I will have to wear when the flights launch and take off next year!   In possibly a runway first, the spacewear system was unveiled in a zero gravity, vertical catwalk led by Sir Richard Branson himself.

“Spacesuits are a part of the iconography of the first space age; our visual impressions of human spaceflight and what astronauts wear are inextricably linked.   Requirements for astronaut spacewear as we enter the second space age are evolving, but the design challenge has not diminished. We were delighted when Kevin and Under Armour stepped up to this task and they have surpassed our expectations.   I love the way the spacewear looks and I love the way it feels. I also love the fact that the next time I put it on, I will be on my way to space.” Richard Branson said,


From the initial brief through to final fabrication, the suit design concepts were defined through inputs from a wide variety of experts, including doctors, astronaut trainers, pilots, apparel and footwear designers, engineers and Future Astronaut customers, to fully understand and address all requirements.   

The liner of the spacesuit incorporates other new fabrics, like Tencel Luxe, SpinIt and Nomex, used for temperature control and moisture management, as Future Astronauts may experience a spectrum of temperatures throughout their journey.   Under Armour (UA) integrated all of the brand’s performance fabrics – cooling, smooth, fast-drying, moisture-managing, comfortable and safe – to ensure the Future Astronaut has the most comfortable experience possible.   An important part of the suit construction included functional features such as multiple pockets for necessary and personal items including an integrated solution for communications, with a push-to-talk button. Each spacesuit iteration underwent rigorous testing with key stakeholders in the VG team including pilots, spaceship engineers, medical officers, astronaut instructors and the customer experience team to ensure it would outperform in-flight expectations.

Cover Image: Steven Counts / Getty Images

Carlsberg on the verge of creating the World’s First ‘Paper’ Beer Bottle


Carlsberg has unveiled two new research prototypes of its Green Fibre Bottle, which are the first ‘paper bottles’ to contain beer.   Carlsberg also announced it has been joined by other leading global companies who are united in their vision of developing sustainable packaging through the advancement of paper bottle technology.  It’s an initiative driven by its ‘Together Towards ZERO’ program to reduce its breweries carbon emissions to zero by 2030, thereby reducing its overall carbon footprint by 30%.

The two new research prototypes are made from sustainably-sourced wood fibre, are fully recyclable and have an inner barrier to allow the bottles to contain beer.  One prototype uses a thin recycled PET polymer film barrier, and the other a 100% bio-based PEF polymer film barrier.  These prototypes will be used to test the barrier technology as Carlsberg seeks a solution to achieve their ultimate ambition of a 100% bio-based bottle without polymers.

“We continue to innovate across all our packaging formats, and we are pleased with the progress we’ve made on the Green Fibre Bottle so far. While we are not completely there yet, the two prototypes are an important step towards realising our ultimate ambition of bringing this breakthrough to market.” said Myriam Shingleton, Vice President Group Development at Carlsberg Group. ” Innovation takes time and we will continue to collaborate with leading experts in order to overcome remaining technical challenges, just as we did with our plastic-reducing Snap Pack.”

Carlsberg will now be joined by The Coca-Cola Company, The Absolut Company and L’Oral in a paper bottle community – launched last week by Paboco. The community unites leading global companies and experts with the vision of advancing sustainable packaging, offering high-quality products while reducing their environmental impact.

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The cataclysmic flare that punched so far out of the Galaxy, its impact was felt 200,000 light years away

A titanic, expanding beam of energy sprang from close to the supermassive black hole in the centre of the Milky Way just 3.5 million years ago, sending a cone-shaped burst of radiation through both poles of the Galaxy and out into deep space.  That’s the finding arising from research conducted by a team of scientists led by Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) and soon to be published in The Astrophysical Journal.  The phenomenon, known as a Seyfert flare, created two enormous ‘ionisation cones’ that sliced through the Milky Way – beginning with a relatively small diameter close to the black hole, and expanding vastly as they exited the Galaxy.  So powerful was the flare that it impacted on the Magellanic Stream – a long trail of gas extending from nearby dwarf galaxies called the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The Magellanic Stream lies at an average 200,000 light years from the Milky Way.

An artist’s impression of the massive bursts of ionising radiation exploding from the centre of the Milky Way and impacting the Magellanic Stream.
Credit: James Josephides/ASTRO 3D


The explosion was too huge, says the Australian-US research team, to have been triggered by anything other than nuclear activity associated with the black hole, known as Sagittarius A, or Sgr A*, which is about 4.2 million times more massive than the Sun.

Using data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope, the researchers calculated that the massive explosion took place little more than three million years ago.  In Galactic terms, that is astonishingly recent.   On Earth at that point, the asteroid that triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs was already 63 million years in the past, and humanity’s ancient ancestors, the Australopithecines, were afoot in Africa.  The blast, the researchers estimate, lasted for perhaps 300,000 years – an extremely short period in galactic terms.


A schematic diagram modelling the ionising radiation field over the South Galactic Hemisphere of the Milky Way, disrupted by the Seyfert flare event.
Credit: Bland-Hawthorne, et al/ASTRO 3D

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‘Project Sunrise’ Qantas Research Flights take off

October marks the start of the next phase in planning for Project Sunrise, three ultra long-haul test flights that will be conducting on-board research to understand the needs and effects this kind of travel will have on passengers and crew.   It will represent the world’s first flight by a commercial airline direct from New York to Sydney and only the second time a commercial airline has flown direct from London to Sydney.  The gathering of intelligence from the  series of flights over the next three months are critical steps toward Qantas’s vision to  operate regular, non-stop commercial flights from the east coast of Australia (Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne) to London and New York.

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