People attending the Hendra vaccine launch.

Hendra vaccine launch.

November 2012: Hendra heroes and a new test for silent killer

Australian horse owners received an important boost in their fight against the deadly Hendra virus with the introduction of a vaccine, and a major step towards a more effective and reliable blood-based test for bowel cancer is announced.

  • 20 December 2012

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Glen Paul: Welcome to CSIRONow. Getting November under way was the exciting news veterinarians, horse owners and handlers had longed hoped for, a vaccine to protect horses from the deadly Hendra virus was now available for use. Officially launched on November 1st, CSIROs Doctor Deborah Middleton joined a panel of those involved in the vaccines development to take questions from the media.

Dr Middleton: We’ve learnt a lot about Hendra virus in the last 18-years, and one of the key messages, or one of our key learnings, is that the pathway to transmission of this virus from its reservoir in flying foxes to people is through the infected horse. And, our view has been that to interrupt the chain of transmission of disease from flying foxes, to horses, to people, is best addressed by reducing the risk of virus replication in horses.

Glen Paul: CSIRO has maintained a significant program of Hendra research since it was first identified in 1994, contributing critical technical knowledge and advice to the partnership. CSIRO also provided the safe handling of Hendra virus and testing of the vaccine at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory containment facility in Geelong, Victoria, the only laboratory in the world capable of such high risk work.
The vaccine for horses is a major win for the equine industry.

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Jasmine Leong: The CSIRO Corporate Centre was the venue for a November workshop aimed at CSIRO staff looking to develop collaborations with key Indian institutions and governing bodies. A broad section of the organisation attended the seminar, with representatives from research areas, IP and licensing, and business development all keen to participate.

Liz Yuncken: CSIRO’s been doing stacks of research with India for a quite a long time. For example our Plant Industry people have been engaging with India on crop research for decades. But there’s a huge amount of potential for us to do more in India. India is a massive economy, huge numbers of people, there’s quite a lot similarity in climate and geology with India, so we can actually learn from India as well as finding new impacts for our research in a new market.

Jasmine Leong: CSIRO collaborates with most countries in Asia, with our biggest partner in the region being China.

Glen Paul: With bowel cancer being the second biggest killer after lung cancer in Australia and the second most common type of cancer diagnosed in this country there was plenty of interest in the November announcement of a major step towards a more effective and reliable blood based test for bowel cancer.

Working with collaborators CSIRO has identified a two gene combination called ‘Gemini’, which can detect bowel cancer 76 per cent of the time with an accuracy of 93 per cent in normal patients.

Dr Molloy: CSIROs Preventative Health Flagship teamed up with partners at Flinders Medical Centre in South Australia and with a small biotech company in Australia, Clinical Genomics, to develop a program for an improved test for colorectal cancer. I guess we’re excited because we’re now at the point where we can see something that has come through a lot of hard work in the laboratory, but it’s reached the point where there’s enough confidence that this is going to be a successful product.

Glen Paul: More than 14,000 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and 4,000 die from it.

Dr Molloy: Unfortunately with bowel cancer, detection of the cancer late is pretty much a death sentence. But if you get it early it can be treated quite efficiently by surgery.

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Jasmine Leong: In November Queensland primary school student and winner of the national competition to name Australia’s new Marine National Facility Research Vessel, 12-year old Clare Cameron was given a special tour of our current research vessel the Southern Surveyor in Brisbane. Clare, who was ten when the competition was held, suggested the new ship be called the Flinders Investigator linking it to Australia’s maritime history and a ship used by Matthew Flinders the first to circumnavigate Australia the HMS Investigator.

Taking her entry into account the Federal Minister for Science deemed Clare the joint winner, naming the new research vessel Investigator. Clare, her friend and family toured the Southern Surveyor meeting the scientists on-board. Clare was also presented with a Lego Investigator by the Executive Director of the Future Research Vessel Project, Toni Moate.
The 120 million dollar Investigator is currently under construction and will herald a new era in marine and atmospheric research for Australian scientists when it arrives in late 2013.

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Glen Paul:
Behind every scientific discovery and bright new idea there’s a rich history of facts, theories and philosophies. CSIRO produces a variety of publications and resources to engage kids in the science behind the science. To help more people access these science activities, news articles, games and puzzles, CSIROs educational publications are expanding into the Blogsoshpere.

Jasmine Leong: We thought it was time to deliver more of our educational content online and CSIRO has a few blogs so we thought it was a great opportunity to make our content more accessible.

We work with freelance and in-house writers here to make science and maths content. We want it to be something that kids love to read, but also happens to explain the latest science and technology.

Glen Paul: Going digital won’t see an immediate end to the traditional bi-monthly print magazines, which will continue to be created. For over 25-years The Helix magazine and its sister publication Scientriffic have been delivered to thousands of readers across Australia. While the magazines have kept up with the times the digital landscape offers some exciting new opportunities.

Jasmine Leong: There are lots of things that we can do on the web or with a Tablet that we just can’t do in a printed magazine. We can include videos, audio and also links to related materials.

Glen Paul: To find out about the new Double Helix blog and our other blogs just head to

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Jasmine Leong: Staff at CSIROs Marine and Atmospheric Research in Hobart were delighted to find themselves part of the Royal Jubilee Tour in November, when a venue change saw His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, visiting CSIROs Hobart Laboratories to be briefed on Southern Ocean, Fisheries and Antarctic Science.

Around 40 staff got the chance to meet the Prince before the science presentation.

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Glen Paul: To kick off CSIROs Marine Science Summer, Doctor Denise Hardesty held a live view stream event to discuss the major threat posed to Australia’s wildlife by marine debris that litters the Australian coastline.

Dr Hardesty: You know what are the hot spots, what are the clean spots, how does that relate to where animals might be picking it up, because marine animals eat out in the oceans, so we need to actually figure out where the debris on our coastline sort of comes from and where is that overlap of where the animals are out there feeding and trying to earn their living, and then what happens to those animals when the encounter debris. Do they happen to eat it? Do they caught up in it? – those sorts of things.

Glen Paul: The marine debris research is part of TeachWild a national three year research and education program developed by Earthwatch Australia together with CSIRO and Founding Partner Shell.

Dr Hardesty: But most importantly, I think, really Who are we, where all you fabulous kids and volunteers, who are getting out there in the community and helping to collect this data and helping to understand, helping us to really analyse this data and understand where are debris coming from and what kind of things do we find in what different areas.

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Glen Paul: Over 460 soil scientists from 20 countries gathered in Hobart in early December for the fifth joint Australian and New Zealand Soil Science Conference. With the theme, “Soil solutions for diverse landscapes”, the meeting reflected on the breadth of soils, landforms and climate across the region and the corresponding extent of land use from agriculture, to forestry, conservation, recreation and urban use. Sponsored by CSIRO the conference was the ideal place to promote the new SoilMapp app for iPad that allows farmers, and others, to access real time information about soils while in the field.

Peter Wilson: Soils are important to almost everything we do whether you’re a farmer who can grow crops, or whether you’re a developer that’s trying to build something within the soils, or you’re a bushwalker going on some hike through the country and you want to know whether you’re going to get your 4WD bogged or anything else. So, SoilMapp will, potentially, give you the information you need on the characteristics of the soil. So, is it deep, is it clay? Is it sandy? And then you can use the information for whatever you need to with soil.

Glen Paul: CSIROs SoilMapp will soon be available from the App Store.

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Jasmine Leong: And that’s CSIROnow. For more information on these stories, or to follow us on other social media, go to