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Return to Oz: microRNA, Sleep, Cotton, Astronomy, and Nature May 8, 2006

Posted by Sacha in microRNA, Science.

Before this old news gets any older, I must tell you all about my latest adventure in Australia. 

[The following events take place in the month of March, 2006.]

We started out by visiting the University of Sydney/RPAH.  While there, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. John Rasko, head of the Gene therapy Unit at the Centenary Institute.  Researchers there have developed techniques for identifying and quantifying microRNA expression in cells.  Dr. Rasko has an entire team working on identifying microRNA function, so I look forward to posting news of breakthrough research from this outstanding group in the future. 

Next on the itenerary was lunch with sleep researcher, physician extraordinaire, and friend, Dr. David Joffe.  David has fun depriving people of sleep in the name of science.  Read about it here.

And on to my favorite part of the trip, the whirlwind cotton adventure through the bush (AKA outback), a personal tour from my in-laws.  First, we visited Auscott, where I got to see the latest in cotton ginning technology.  Next we went to the CSIRO cotton fields, where we saw many varieties of experimental stage cotton.  There was even a tiny, old gin that we put seedy cotton in and out came a fluffy ball of cotton! (City slickers are so easy to amuse!!)

A few things I've learned about cotton over the years:

  • Cotton lint comes in colors, including brown, green, and red, but the fiber quality isn't as good as the traditional white.

  • The flowers are pretty, yellow hibiscus.  Egyptian cotton has the prettiest flowers.

  • Researchers breed and genetically modify cotton to be resistant to bugs.  This cool technology is what originally got me interested in doing genetics research.  By making special breeds of cotton, scientists have had a positive impact on farm worker health, the environment (less pesticides), and the economy.

Rounding out the outback portion of the trip, we visited the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA), also in Narrabri and run by CSIRO.  This facility has an array of six 22-meter antennas used for radio astronomy.  Fun fact: The antennas reside on a track that is a truly straight line – it doesn't follow the curvature of the Earth. (For this to make sense, you have to buy into the "Earth isn't flat" theory.)  The site I linked to above has great photos and lots more information.

Australia is a MUST for any science lover with $US1500 to spend on a plane ticket.  Even trumping the great research is the natural beauty and diversity of animals.  In a typical trip, we will see kangaroos, goannas, cockatoos, and many other creatures in the wild.  But, the best part is the warmth, hospitality, and cooking of the people.  Thank you to everyone who made this a memorable trip for us.


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