Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

1140th General Monthly Meeting

The Role of DNA Studies in the Story of Human Evolution

Dr Sheila van Holst Pellekaan
Visiting Senior Research Fellow
School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of NSW

Date:
Time: 6:00 for 6:30 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road

ABSTRACT

In the unfolding story of human evolution, DNA studies have provided powerful and prodigious banks of information that have challenged many aspects of what has been interpreted from the fossil record. Skeletal morphology indicates divergence from our nearest hominid relatives some 5 — 7 MYA (million years ago) in Africa. Around 1.5 — 1.8 MYA, some `early' hominids, known as Homo erectus, left Africa and spread into Europe, Asia and as far as Indonesia. There has been much debate concerning two main models for how the process may have occurred. `Modern' homo sapiens eventually spread into Australia, the Americas and the Pacific region. DNA studies directed at understanding human history began to emerge in the 1980's and exacerbated contention about human dispersal by positing that another wave of humans left Africa around 200 — 100 KYA (thousand years ago) giving rise to all modern populations, thus contending that existing populations were replaced by the newcomers. Our ability to analyse observed DNA variation is impressive but raises questions about our interpretation. The Australian continent and its earliest inhabitants, offers a fascinating context in which to explore what we know and do not know about human dispersal.

Enquiries: Prof. P.A. Williams
email: P.Williams@uws.edu.au
or phone the Society — details on Introduction page.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Dr Sheila van Holst Pellekaan is currently a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of NSW. She has a multidisciplinary background having started her career in nursing, especially operating theatre work and then moved into medical research with positions at the Howard Florey Institute at the University of Melbourne, the Royal College of Surgeons, London and the Kanematsu Institute in Sydney. After some years devoted to family life she obtained undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Anthropology at the University of Sydney and developed a strong interest in human evolution, Australian archaeology and anthropology. The transition to molecular anthropology followed and she completed a PhD in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney in 1997. The project explored the mitochondrial variation in Aboriginal Australians. At the same time she was also a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Nursing, University of Sydney where she taught human biology, Indigenous Australian studies and was closely involved with Indigenous health and education issues. Research work continued on mitochondrial DNA variation and health related nuclear markers, some of which was published, confirming the long time depth for a human presence in Australia evidenced by archaeological deposits. Throughout this research, she has had a strong commitment to working closely with Aboriginal communities in western New South Wales, maintaining frequent contact, and involving participants and Elders in the writing of community reports.

1139th General Monthly Meeting

TB: Controlling the Old Scourge

Professor Warwick Britton, Head, Mycobacterial Research Group, Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology, University of Sydney

Date: 5,October, 2005
Time: 6:00 for 6:30 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road

ABSTRACT

Nine million people contract tuberculosis every year and two million die. Over 95% initially control the infection, but may develop tuberculosis later. Why some patients resist and others develop the disease is not fully understood. At least 10 different genes have been shown to influence the control of tuberculosis. This will be illustrated by our work on a purinergic receptor on macrophages, which triggers killing of mycobacteria. The current BCG vaccine is only partially effective. More effective vaccines are urgently needed. One approach is to improve the effect of BCG by expressing parts of the M. tuberculosis organism in BCG. Another approach is to create attenuated strains of M. tuberculosis which may be more effective than BCG as vaccines and are safe because of their reduced virulence. The third approach is to use genes or proteins from M.tuberculosis as subunit vaccines. All of these approaches will be discussed.

He established the Mycobacterial Research Laboratory in Kathmandu from 1986-89 for the study of human immune responses to Mycobacterium leprae. His studies have spanned the definition of mycobacterial antigens, the cloning and manipulation of mycobacterial genes, the characterisation of human and mouse host responses to mycobacterial infections and the development of recombinant mycobacterial, viral and DNA vaccines. He has additional research interests in cellular immune responses in allergic disease and the epidemiology of asthma

Enquiries: Prof. P.A. Williams
email: P.Williams@uws.edu.au
or phone the Society - details on Introduction page.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Warwick Britton is Bosch Professor of Medicine, Head of the Disciplines of Medicine, and Infectious Diseases and Immunology at the University of Sydney and Head, Mycobacterial Research Group, Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology. He has made extensive contributions to the study of mycobacterial infections over the last 20 years. He established the Mycobacterial Research Laboratory in Kathmandu from 1986-89 for the study of human immune responses to Mycobacterium leprae. His studies have spanned the definition of mycobacterial antigens, the cloning and manipulation of mycobacterial genes, the characterisation of human and mouse host responses to mycobacterial infections and the development of recombinant mycobacterial, viral and DNA vaccines. He has additional research interests in cellular immune responses in allergic disease and the epidemiology of asthma.

TB: CONTROLLING THE OLD SCOURGE
Report on the General Monthly Meeting
by Jak Kelly

TB has been well controlled in Australia but unfortunately not in many other parts of the world. The organism which causes TB, Mycobacterium tuberculoses, identified by Robert Koch in the 1880s, is one of the most successful and infectious pathogens. It is extremely well adapted to humans. It secretes numerous proteins to protect itself and has twelve different mechanisms to overcome our immune system. It infects a third of humanity and kills 5-10% of those infected. TB has returned to many communities and interacts with AIDS. About a third of AIDS deaths are now due to TB and a million new TB cases a year are added because of AIDS. This is because a specific type of T-cell is involved in the control of both diseases and their depletion by AIDS weakens their ability to destroy M. tuberculosis.

Genetic studies show that about 30% of TB cases are due to multiple genes, each having a small effect. The wealth of information now available on the human genome enables some of these base differences to be related to differing susceptibilities to specific diseases. Such work on relating vitamin D receptor variations to osteoporosis has proved useful in TB studies. Migrant Gujirati people in the unsunny London climate suffer a vitamin D deficiency, particularly the women whose traditional attire exposes little skin to the sun to make vitamin D, a vitamin also involved in defending against TB. This gene-environmental interaction gives these people a TB rate eighty times that of NSW.

ATP is the energy source of all cells but can have other functions. It can leave the cell and bind to the surface of other cells. Professor Britton and his colleagues have studied the role of ATP in killing TB bacteria and relating it to small genetic variations between populations and individuals. For example one snip reduces bacterial killing by 50% but two reduces it to nearly zero. This has been investigated in two independent groups, a population of refugees, who have been followed for 20 years having been screened for TB on entering Australia and a population of Australian TB sufferers. Both population studies supported the above findings. There were however some notable exceptions which are now under study. Clearly many other genes are involved in the ability to kill TB and the same is true of other diseases such as asthma.

After an extended and interesting number of questions from the floor were answered in detail by the speaker, a vote of thanks was proposed by Professor Bill Sewell and the President presented a Society Speakers Medal to Professor Britton.

The 2005 Clarke Memorial Lecture & 1138th General Monthly Meeting

The Quickening: Beginning of Animal Life on Earth

Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich, Monash

Date: Wednesday, 7th September, 2005
Time: 6:00 for 6:30 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, University of Sydney (City Road, side entrance to the Forum Restaurant)

ABSTRACT

Four places in the world have yielded a most spectacular record of animal life prior to the time when shells and skeletons appeared - all of late Precambrian age, the time from around 700 to around 542 million years ago. Those places are the White Sea (as well as Siberia and the Urals) of Russia, Namibia in Southwest Africa, Newfoundland in Canada and the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. The relationships of each of these animals found in disjunct locales are and have been under debate since the early 1900's when they were first found in Africa. These first metazoans represent the lengthy fuse that was alight well before the rather misnamed "Cambrian Explosion" to place and clearly illustrate experimentation in body plans, lifestyles and occupation of much of the marine ecospace was well underway long before 542 million years ago, when many different animal groups began digging trenches in search of food and protection, put on armour for a number of reasons and a great biodiversification event seems to have taken place - but in many ways it is just an illusion.

Enquiries: Prof. P.A. Williams
email: P.Williams@uws.edu.au
or phone the Society - details on Introduction page.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Patricia Vickers-Rich holds a Personal Chair in Palaeontology at Monash University in Melbourne and founded the Monash Science Centre in 1993. She received her BA from UC Berkeley and her MA and PhD from Columbia University, New York. Her early work was on the origin and evolution of the Australiasian avifauna, then later on polar faunas from the Mesozoic of Australia. She now leads an International Geological Correlation Programme investigating the biotic, climatic and geographic changes of the late Precambrian globally. Her current field work is centred in Namibia, northern Russia and Siberia.

REPORT ON THE GENERAL MONTHLY MEETING
by Jak Kelly

After a concise introduction to the basic geological periods and the terminology Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich spoke of her work, and that of her associates, on fossils of animals in the time before the emergence of creatures with hard shells and skeletons appeared on earth in the late Precambrian. She illustrated the talk with fascinating photographs and anecdotes from her field trips to Siberia to obtain fossil remains and fossil surface trails of these earlier creatures. Some of the fossils show the internal structures of animals and some the outside, which complicates interpretation. They are also found in Namibia in Southwest Africa, in Newfoundland in Canada and the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, the world then being a single supercontinent. Strange bead like structures from WA, which at 1.66 billion years old may be the most ancient metazoans yet found, but there is still dispute about them being plant or animal. The more recent metazoans, true animals, are marine, some fixed in position and some able to move and graze. Some of the trails along which they grazed have been preserved in the fossil record. Oxygen isotope measurements reveal that the water was cold at this time. The colder the water the more oxygen it can dissolve, which was probably an advantage for the development of these animals.

An interesting aim of this field is to explain the so called "Cambrian Explosion", when a host of different animals appear in the fossil record over a (geologically) short time. It is easier to understand sudden mass extinctions, due perhaps to an asteroid strike, than the sudden emergence of many complicated new life forms. Some of the earlier soft shelled animals, that were the subject of this talk, have body plans like later Cambrian forms. The implication is that their soft bodies didn't fossilise as easily as the hard shelled, or with teeth and bones, descendents of those of them that survived into the Cambrian. The explosion of metazoan life, some 542 million years ago is hence probably an artefact of the fossil making processes rather than a sudden "explosion" of new life forms.

After many questions and additional discussion from the floor a vote of thanks was moved by Karina Kelly and Prof Rich was presented with the Society's Speaker's medal.

1137th General Monthly Meeting

Tails of Dingoes: their Past and their Future

Dr Alan Wilton of the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales.

Date: Wednesday, 3rd August, 2005
Time: 6:30 for 7:00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road

ABSTRACT

When dingoes arrived in Australia 5,000 years ago they were the domestic dog of the day. Only a limited number of related animals can have been introduced as all current dingoes have very similar DNA types for the mitochondria. The dingo is an example of the early stages of the domestic dog and is more closely related to the Asian dog breeds of today than European domestic dogs.

We have exploited this to identify genetic markers, similar to those used in DNA fingerprinting, that can differentiate dingoes from European dogs. The dingo is an Australian icon that is under threat and disappearing from the wild where it is being replaced by hybrids with domestic dogs. The close relationship of dingoes and dogs means that there are no barriers to interbreeding. The process is difficult to stop and is well advanced along the east coast where most populations contain ~80% hybrids. Isolated populations like the dingoes on Fraser Island may be the only way to preserve the dingo. But first we have to ensure that any population of dingoes we conserve is genetically pure.

Enquiries: Prof. P.A. Williams
email: P.Williams@uws.edu.au
or phone the Society - details on Introduction page.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Alan Wilton was born in Sydney in 1953. He got his BSc (Hons) at Sydney Uni in 1976 and PhD in population genetics on Drosophila in 1980 also at Sydney University. He did 5 Postdocs over 11 years in North Carolina State, UC Davis, Univ WA, Adelaide and Macquarie during which time he moved to doing human molecular genetics and disease gene mapping. He has been at University of New South Wales since 1991 and is a Senior Lecturer in genetics in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences. His current research is in disease gene mapping in humans, gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. He collaborates with researchers in Norway, Sweden and the US. He has used the information from the dog genome project to identify the genetic cause of a nerve degenerative disease in Border Collies, patented it, and set up DNA testing for the disease allele. He is also working on other dog diseases. His dog disease work has led him to do research into the plight of wild dingoes and the origins of these unique, wild Australian dogs. In 2004 he was awarded the Unsung Hero of Australian Science by the Australian Science Communicators for his work on dingoes. He is Patron of the Border Collie Club of NSW; the Australian Dingo Conservation Association; and the Dingo Sanctuary. He is a member of one of the UNSW Human Ethics Committees. He has 45 scientific publications.

REPORT ON THE GENERAL MONTHLY MEETING
by Jak Kelly

Dr Alan Wilton in his talk "Tails of Dingoes" at the 1137th OGM, described how he and his colleagues at UNSW used gene mapping to find the genetic cause of a nerve degenerative disease in Border Collie dogs and how this led him to study the origin of dingoes, which has been a matter of dispute for decades. Are they wild dogs or once domestic dogs that have gone wild? When and how did they arrive in Australia? Did they walk here over a land bridge, float in on logs, or come in boats? The oldest dated dingo remains are about 3500 years old but bones with characteristic dingo teeth marks on them go back to about 4000 years. There are none in Tasmania so they were not here 12000 years ago. In New Guinea evidence for dogs goes back only 2000 years but it is difficult finding such evidence in tropical forests. Most present day dingoes are dog dingo hybrids but it has been difficult to determine from morphological measurements the degree to which this has occurred in particular cases. Genetic analysis by Dr Wilton and his associates has solved this problem.

The dingo has been both a national icon and an agricultural pest with a price on its head. Fortunately, unlike the Tasmanian thylacine, it has not been driven to extinction and it is now realised that poisoning and trapping the dingo can be a retrograde step for farmers. The social structure of dingoes allows only the dominant female in a pack to breed - thus limiting population growth. Random killing of dingoes breaks down their social structure and the dingoes then breed with any dogs that come along. An intact dingo social structure minimises this and they also kill foxes and feral cats and dogs that enter their territory. This is much better for native wildlife and even farm animals. Dingoes have a large territory which they hunt in sequence and thus do less damage to wildlife than feral cats and dogs that tend to kill indiscriminately.

A kangaroo parasite has been found on dingoes and Asian paria dogs, which suggests dingoes moved back and forth between Australia and Asia on boats as domestic pets and reserve food supplies. Many Asian paria dogs look like dingoes, further reinforcing the idea that they were originally Asian domestic dogs which went wild here after arriving on Asian boats.

Genetic analysis, in particular, on a section of mitochondria which can mutate without damaging the body, as it does not make a protein, can be used for dating. The larger the number of mutations the older it is. Amplification of selected sections of DNA, to make millions of copies, enables DNA sequencing which shows relationships between species. For example, it has shown that whales come from cows. It the case of dingoes it shows that they are more closely related to domestic dogs than to wolves and closer to Asian dogs than European dogs. These results also indicate that dogs were domesticated in Asia at an earlier time than they were in Europe.

Because of cross breeding with domestic dogs, few pure breed dingoes are left, particularly along the east coast. The UNSW team have used genetic markers, like those used in paternity checks, to find that there is not much genetic variation between all dingoes, thus indicating that they are all descended from a small number of ancestors who probably escaped from the boats of Asian traders about 5000 years ago.

In making efforts to conserve the dingo, we should be sure we are saving the pure bred strain. Everywhere they are becoming less afraid of man and indeed attracted to parks and resorts as a food source. One of the few remaining pure groups is on Fraser Island, as genetic analysis confirms but how long they will remain so is a matter of concern.

1136th General Monthly Meeting

Why did the Vertebrate Brain Become Lateralised?

Professor Lesley Rogers
Professor of Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour, University of New England

Date: Wednesday, 6th July, 2005
Time: 7:00 for 7:30 pm (The Forum Restaurant Bar will be open from 6:00 pm)
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road, University of Sydney

ABSTRACT

Until recently it had been thought that specialization of the hemispheres to carry out different functions (i.e. brain lateralization) was a unique characteristic of humans, apparently explaining our ability for language and other superior cognitive abilities. We now know that lateralization of the brain evolved very early in vertebrates. Why did it evolve? This question is particularly pertinent when we consider that several species have been shown to detect an advancing predator more rapidly, and escape more readily, when the approach is from the left side (under the control of the right hemisphere). Predators could take advantage of this side bias. This obvious disadvantage must be counteracted by some advantage(s), and the latter may be found in social behaviour. This will be discussed and evidence for social species being lateralized at group level will be presented. The individual benefits from having a lateralized brain when several tasks have to be carried out at the same time (e.g. being vigilant for predators and searching for food) will also be discussed. In addition to these questions of function and evolution, the talk will cover the interactive influences of genes, hormones and experience on the development of brain lateralization.

Enquiries: Prof. P.A. Williams
email: P.Williams@uws.edu.au
or phone the Society - details on Introduction page.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Professor Lesley Rogers is Professor of Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour at the University of New England, and coordinator of the Centre for Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour. She obtained her first degree (with Honours in zoology) at Adelaide University and her D. Phil. at Sussex University. Subsequently Sussex University awarded her a Doctor of Science. She is well known nationally and internationally for her research on the development and evolution of brain and behaviour, with a focus on hemispheric specialization (lateralization), and has published close to 200 scientific papers and 14 books. In fact, her discovery of lateralization in the brain showed that it is not a unique characteristic of humans and this work was among the few studies that established the now large field of research on lateralization in animals. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and serves on its council. In addition to her interests in brain and behaviour, she is interested in higher cognition in animals and has played an active role in animal welfare, as Chair of her university's Animal Ethics Committee for a number of years and then as a member of the NSW Animal Research Review Panel. In 2004 the Royal Society of NSW awarded her the Clarke Medal for research in zoology.

KEEP A SHARP LOOKOUT ON YOUR LEFT
Report on the General Monthly Meeting
by Jak Kelly

It has been believed for centuries that our lateralized brains made us different from all other animals. A mounting body of field work and laboratory experiments over the last thirty years however indicates that the specialised lateralized brain evolved much further back in history than humans or even primates. Primates show hand preferences in feeding and tool use related to brain lateralization. It occurs in fish and is at present even being sought in invertebrates. Professor Rogers discussed her ground breaking work on chickens. She found that they could be lateralized by exposing one eye to light, which they do naturally by turning their heads at day 18 to occlude the left eye and expose the right to light penetrating the translucent shell. Manipulating the chicken to reverse the eyes exposure reverses the brain lateralization and hatching in the dark removes it. Injecting hormones into the shell also affects lateralization. The lateralization is thus a combination of genetics, hormones and training, with males being more asymmetric than females. Experiments with birds, and lizards and toads show a clearly divided visual field with a tendency to attack if approached from the left. In general the right hemisphere [left eye] is used for rapid reaction events, such as escape from predators and the left hemisphere for activities that require more consideration, such as choosing food and prey capture. Species which have strong social interactions, such as fish which school and birds which flock have the same hemispheric bias. In many solitary animals bias tends to be randomly distributed. Why such asymmetry? It enables two tasks to be handled simultaneously with greater efficiency, as experiments show, and there are social advantages in having your companions react more predictably.

1135th General Monthly Meeting

Bactrian Camels in Antiquity

Professor Dan Potts
Edwin Cuthbert Hall Professor of Middle Eastern Archaeology and Curator of the Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney

Date: Wednesday, 1st June, 2005
Time: 6:00
Venue: Sydney University in Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre.
The Meeting will commence at 7:00 pm and the Forum Restaurant Bar will be open from 6:00 pm.


ABSTRACT

If the Silk Road may be described as 'the bridge between Eastern and Western cultures', then the Bactrian camel should rightfully be considered the principal means of locomotion across that bridge. And yet there is a great deal of misinformation concerning the Bactrian camel and its relatives, particularly in the ancient Near Eastern literature. With the aim of investigating some of the problems surrounding Camelus bactrianus and the little-known Bactrian-Arabian (dromedary, Camelus dromedarius) hybrids Prof. Dan Potts launched himself into the zoological and historical literature on this important animal last year with some unexpected results, which will be reported on in his lecture.

Enquiries: Prof. P.A. Williams
email: P.Williams@uws.edu.au
or phone the Society — details on Introduction page.


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Professor Dan Potts is Edwin Cuthbert Hall Professor of Middle Eastern Archaeology and Curator of the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney. He is Academic Director of the Near Eastern Archaeological Foundation and has a PhD from Harvard and a DPhil from Copenhagen. He has held academic positions at Harvard, Ben Gurion University, Oxford, Copenhagen and Berlin and is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Society of Antiquaries, London. He is Founding Editor of several archaeological publications and on the editorial board of a number of others. He has been frequently interviewed in the media and has an extensive list of well regarded publications.


BACTRIAN CAMELS IN ANTIQUITY Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jak Kelly

The Camel has been important to the peoples of Asia for millennia. Images of two humped camels have been found going back to Neolithic times. It has been asserted that parts of Siberia and the inner high plains of Mongolia would not have become inhabited but for the camel, which is happy operating at altitudes up to 4000m they were capable of carrying loads of 220-270 kg for 30-40 km a day. Camels live for up to 40 years and start work at the age of four.

Archaeological evidence from rock art, shards, carvings, coins, seals and even large Chinese tomb figurines attest to the long historical social importance and value of the camel to many Asian civilisations. They were the main means of transport along the Silk Road joining east and west with the camel trains travelling in winter.

Aristotle wrote that there were two types of camel, the Bactrian with two humps, and the Dromedary, with one. Bactrian is probably a misnomer as the camels probably spread west from near China and not in the reverse direction, as has been suggested by some. The Greeks probably knew about camels from their interactions with the Persians. The Palace of Darius showed camels being presented as gifts to the king.

Camels supplied meat, hides and milk to the tribes who herded them but were mainly pack animals. They were highly prized gifts and commonly taken as booty in wars and raids. Selective breeding almost doubled the load carrying capacity of the animals. Evidence of hybrid camels has been found in Roman Troy and early Islamic Pella in Jordan. The preferred hybrid was between a female Dromedary and a male Bactrian which produces a much larger good tempered animal, a practice which persists to the present day.

1134th General Monthly Meeting

Biocosmology: a new science

Dr Charley Lineweaver, Senior Fellow Planetary Science Institute, Australian National University

Date: Wednesday, 4th May, 2005
Time: 7.00 pm (bar open from 6.00 pm)
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre (side entrance to the Forum Restaurant), Sydney University, City Road


ABSTRACT

As we learn more about the origin and evolution of the universe and about the prerequisites for the emergence of life, the connections between cosmology and biology are becoming more obvious and more quantifiable. Where and when in the universe did the first molecules form? Where and when did the first stars and terrestrial planets form? Where is the liquid water in the universe? Since life emerged early in the history of the Earth, does that mean that life is common in the universe? I will summarize our knowledge and speculations about the origin of life in our galaxy and in the universe.


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Dr Lineweaver is an American permanently resident in Australia, and has been a Senior Lecturer at the University of NSW since 2002. He received his PhD in Physics at Berkeley, University of California in 1994, after studying at Berkley and the Ludwig-Maximillian Universität, München.

In addition to working at Berkley, he was a Post-doctoral Fellow at the Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg, France from 1994 to 1997 and a Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellow at the University of NSW from 1997 to 2000.

Dr Lineweaver was a Eureka Prize finalist for Science Journalism in 2001 for his article "The Origin of the Universe" — the 13 billion year history of the Universe, published in 2000.

Dr Lineweaver has published numerous papers and has set up a course teaching Astrobiology entitled "Are We Alone?" — the most popular General Studies course offered by the School of Physics at the University of NSW.

His research interests include cosmology, astrobiology and statistical analyses of extrasolar planets.


ARE WE JUST LUCKY?
Report on the General Monthly Meeting
by Jak Kelly

Dr Charles Lineweaver of the Australian National University gave an extremely interesting talk basically on where we came from and why we are here, in this part of the galaxy. How did life emerge from the hydrogen and helium that constituted, and still does, the main part of the universe in the beginning? Early cosmology was based on speculations with little experimental evidence but over recent decades has become a much more exact science as measurements of what is out there have accumulated. The study of the origins of life in the cosmos is in its early speculative state, like early cosmology, but progress is likely to be much more rapid as relevant information increases.

There is only a limited habitable zone around a star for water based life. It must be liquid, not ice or steam. Earth is in this fortunate position. Living organisms also need heavier atoms such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and others. These atoms are made in stars and widely distributed when the stars end their careers in the massive explosions of supernova. The heavy atoms, quaintly called metals by astronomers, are spread throughout the galaxy; so will life be likely to emerge on planets around the hundreds of billions of stars throughout our galaxy? Dr Lineweaver and others speculate that there is a life friendly zone in the galaxy, just as there is about a particular star. This zone is defined by the presence of enough "metals" and the absence of too many stellar explosions, which produce doses of radiation lethal to life on nearby stars. This gives us a spherical shell about the massive black hole at the galactic centre. The inner radius is far enough out to avoid the lethal turmoil of frequent star birth and death in the more crowded inner reaches of the galaxy and the outer radius is limited by the diminished supply of "metals".

Again we are lucky. Our sun is in this zone. Has life also made it around the millions of other nearby stars? Perhaps we will soon know. Planet finding is a growth industry with over a thousand so far, although most are unsuitable for life as we know it. Finding small rocky earth like planets is more difficult but when we do we won't have to wait for SETI to decipher radio signals. An analysis of the atmosphere will tell us if life is on its way, although we may have to wait the odd billion years or so to have meaningful conversations with them.

AGM & 1133rd General Monthly Meeting

A Hundred Years after Einstein's Extraordinary Year

Ms Karina Kelly, President of the Society

Date: Wednesday, 6th April, 2005

Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre (side entrance to the Forum Restaurant), University of Sydney, City Road

ABSTRACT

It's been a hundred years since Einstein's Extraordinary Year known as his Annus Mirabilis. In 1905, he published four remarkable papers and finished his doctoral dissertation. Any one of these papers would have established him as one of the new century's greatest scientists but what made this such an achievement was that each paper spawned a completely different branch of physics. Kelly's talk will range from the Einstein centenary to other areas of science that have caught her interest in her nearly two decades of reporting on science for ABC TV. These include the chaos being experienced in the Nutrition discipline, mass species extinction, the demise of the Superconducting Supercollider, the effect of Post Modernism on Science and the notion that we may be living in a psychopathic society. Time will pass quickly because, as Einstein knew only too well, time is relative.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES 

Karina Kelly is the retiring President of the Royal Society of New South Wales; a position she has held for two years. It is a long standing tradition of the society that each retiring president gives a presidential address on a subject of their choice and this is one such. Karina has worked in television since 1981, first for the news department of SBS television, then Channel 7 news before joining ABC's TV science program Quantum in 1986. She left ABC in 1996 and spent five years at home with her children before re-joining ABC's Catalyst program in 2001. She has won numerous international awards for her television work (including a World Gold Medal at the New York Film and Television Festivals), but her real claim to international fame is not as a science journalist but as the narrator of the renowned children's program, Bananas in Pyjamas.


A Hundred Years after Einstein's Extraordinary Year
Report on the General Monthly Meeting
by Jak Kelly

The 138th Annual General Meeting and the 1133rd Ordinary General Meeting were held at Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, Sydney University, 174 City Road, Darlington on Wednesday the 6th April 2005. 37 Members and guests attended.

Election of Council Members for 2005/2006 was held during the Annual General meeting. The Council's new President is Prof. J.C. Kelly, who was formerly Hon. Sec. and Ms Jill Rowling is now Honorary Secretary. Alan Buttenshaw is now Honorary Treasurer. Karina Kelly as the immediate past President joins the Vice Presidents.

The Annual Report of Council and the Annual Financial Report by the Auditors for 2004 were presented and accepted by the Members.

The Presidential address was delivered by Karina Kelly entitled "A Hundred Years after Einstein's Extraordinary Year".

The speaker began by stating that in 1905, Albert Einstein published three extraordinary papers which established him as one of the greatest minds humanity has produced and earned him the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics. To celebrate the centenary of Einstein's 'Annus Mirabilis', 2005 has been declared the International year of Physics. We were given a brief summary of the significance of some of this work, including the fact that E=mc2 does not appear in this form in his paper on the equivalence of mass and energy. There were many splendid, little-known photographs of Einstein. I can see now why once, when asked by an official, he gave his profession as "Photographer's model".

A quotation, attributed to him, "Only two things are infinite; the universe and human stupidity and I am not sure about the former", led on to a discussion of some more recent examples supporting this contention. The Superconducting Supercollider, abandoned after $2 billion had been spent excavating the site in Texas, which is now used for anti-terrorism firearm training instead of hunting the Higgs Boson. War however can always be afforded. The website http://www.costofwar.com shows that the Iraq war has so far run up a bill of some $160 billion.

Although science has recently come under attack in the media, many fields seek to support their activities by copying what they see as the scientific method of translating everything into numbers. Economists particularly are prone to this, but usually leave out the costs to the environment and to society. It works because it is easier to count than read. Einstein again stated "It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure."

The speaker went on to consider the psychopathology of large organizations, global inequality, ecosystem collapse and the support for research in Australia. We do not have space for here for all the details but the full text of the talk will be published in our Journal in the near future. Let us close with another of her quotations: "it is better to be a dog in a peaceful time than a man in a chaotic period." Ending on a controversial note, most of us, including the Speaker, would disagree with the Chinese on this. Bringing order out of chaos is what science is all about and for which there is a greater need now than ever and it will have to done by men and women not mad dogs.

The Four Societies Meeting 2005

Geothermal Energy in Australia

Australian Institute of Energy
Australian Nuclear Association
Engineers Australia (NUC Engineering Panel)
The Royal Society of New South Wales

This year the Meeting was hosted by Engineers Australia and the Speaker was Dr Doone Wyborn who spoke on the topic of Geothermal Energy in Australia.

Date: Wednesday, 23rd February, 2005
Time: 6:00 pm
Venue: Harricks Auditorium, Ground Floor Eagle House, 118 Alfred Street, Milsons Point
Refreshments served from 5:30 pm.

ABSTRACT

Geodynamics Limited is nearing the completion of its "Proof of Concept" hot fractured rock (HFR) program to extract superheated hot water for electricity generation from granite buried beneath the Cooper Basin. In 2003 the Habanero-1 well penetrated permeable sub-horizontal fractures at more than 4,000 m depth. The well was completed at 4,421 m with overpressures in the fractures around this depth exceeding pressures projected from a hydrostatic gradient by more than 5,000 psi. The static rock temperature at the bottom of the well is approximately 250°C.

The overpressures assisted in the development of the world's largest artificial underground heat exchanger, a volume of rock more than 0.7 km3 defined by more than 11,700 microseismic events located on-site during the injection of 23 million litres of fresh water into the granite fracture network.

The second well (Habanero-2) was located 500 m SW of the first. It intersecting a major fracture, interpreted to be an extension of a dominant fracture in Habanero-1, at a depth of 4,325 m. During the operation the lower 245 m of the drill stem was irretrievably lost, and the well was subsequently sidetracked to a total depth of 4,358 m, just below the major fracture.

Flow and circulation testing between the two wells in early 2005 is designed to demonstrate the economic potential of the discovered far-field geothermal system and the heat exchange volume between the two wells.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Dr Doone Wyborn is Executive Director (Science and Exploration) of Geodynamics Limited, and one of the founding Directors of Geodynamics. He is an internationally known geoscientist specialising in granitic rocks. He obtained his PhD on granite research in 1983, and served more than 25 years with the Bureau of Mineral Resources and the Australian Geological Survey Organisation, including research in Antarctica and other overseas locations.

Dr Wyborn has been working on the potential of HFR geothermal energy for the last 12 years and is recognised as a leading Australian expert authority on this subject. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Energy Agency Geothermal Implementing Agreement and has studied HFR geothermal projects in Japan, Europe and the USA. The topic of his talk will be Australian Geothermal Project nearing completion of "Proof of Concept".


Report on the General Monthly Meeting by Jill Rowling

Dr Doone Wyborn introduced his talk by explaining that Geodynamics Limited is nearing the completion of its "Proof of Concept" hot fractured rock (HFR) program to extract superheated hot water for electricity generation from granite buried beneath the Cooper Basin. In 2003 the Habanero-1 well penetrated permeable sub-horizontal fractures at more than 4,000m depth. The well was completed at 4,421m with overpressures in the fractures around this depth exceeding pressures projected from a hydrostatic gradient by more than 5,000psi. The static rock temperature at the bottom of the well is approximately 250°C.

Dr Doone Wyborn went on to explain that so far, Geodynamics had confined their drilling to the far north of South Australia's Cooper Basin. The geological structure they are working on to extract heat is unique in that it is possibly the closest and hottest granite body to the earth's surface. The heat is maintained partly by a relatively insulating sedimentary layer over the granite, keeping in some of the heat that was present during the emplacement of the granite, and a little heat retention by the radioactive decay of elements naturally present in the granite. Fractures have developed in the rock as a natural part of cooling, and these are naturally filled with hot water under pressure. The fractures in the granite are uniquely horizontal in nature.

Dr Wyborn explained some of the problems and surprises they have encountered due to the heat and pressure, and how Geodynamics have two wells, both in hydraulic communication with each other based on pressure tests in one measured in the other. These two wells, Habanero-1 and Habanero-2, are being used to test the production of geothermal heat and then hopefully electricity generation.

Some of the tests involve pumping water down into one of the wells, under pressure, and carefully recording the microseismic activity in order to estimate the productive fractured area. The audience was treated to a visual presentation of these tests measured over time as well as fracture and heat models at various depths over time.

After the presentation, the audience asked numerous questions from a variety of areas to which Dr Wyborn was able to respond superbly. The questions and discussions continued out the door, up the street and over dinner which was held nearby.

1132nd General Monthly Meeting

Rev. W. B. Clarke - 19th Century Polymath and his Scientific
Correspondence

Dr Ann Moyal AM

Date: Wednesday, 2nd February, 2005
Time: 6:30 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre.

ABSTRACT

The Rev William Branwhite Clarke, Australia's Pioneer Geologist, Anglican clergyman , scientific savant and pioneer was one of the key figures of Australian nineteenth-century science. He flourished at a time when science was both the province of the independent and private investigator and as it moved towards a growing professionalism and institutionalisation. He served as an influential Council member of the Philosophical Society from its foundation in 1850 and as its Vice-President in 1858. In 1866, he was a key mover behind the foundation of that Society's successor, The Royal Society of New South Wales, and served as its inaugural and influential Vice-President for seven years.

Clarke took a striking role in the reception of Darwin's "Origin of the Species" in Australia. Like the majority of British scientists in 1860, colonial scientists admired Darwin as a naturalist, but detested the implication of his evolutionary ideas. The Clarke-Darwin correspondence is a testament to Clarke's open-mindedness. In turn Darwin absorbed Clarke's notes in later editions of "The Origin", and served as one of Clarke's sponsors in his election to The Royal Society in 1876.

One of Clarke's lasting memorial remains with the Royal Society of New South Wales. Late in 1878, The Royal Society of New South Wales struck the Clarke Medal as the first scientific medal to be issued in the Colonies. The annual award honours work in the natural sciences in Australia.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Dr Moyal is a leading historian of Australian Science, a graduate of the University of Sydney and a Doctor of Letters from the Australian National University. She is the author of many books and papers. Dr Moyal spoke on the topic of her book that was recently launched at the State Library: "The Scientific Correspondence of the Rev. W B Clarke, Australia's Pioneer Geologist".


Report on the General Monthly Meeting

Dr. Moyal remarked that the Rev. W. B. Clarke would have been delighted that the Society he did so much to establish had survived to its 1132nd monthly meeting. The full text of her address will appear in a coming issue of the Society's Journal, and an extensive abstract appeared in the last Bulletin, so a brief note will suffice here.

A strong sense of history, which led W B Clarke to carefully preserve all his voluminous correspondence, has established him as a very important figure in the development of science in Australia. It also shows that far from being a parochial outpost of empire we were doing scientific work of international significance even in the 19th century.

He supported young scientists at the period when science was making the difficult transition from amateur to professional and was influential with Governors and the Establishment.

His creed for the society is perhaps even more needed today than it was then: "We must strive to discern clearly, understand fully, and report faithfully, to adjure hasty theories, and unsupported conjectures; where we are in doubt, not to be positive."

Sydney Meetings - 2005

​Wednesday
2nd February

Rev. W. B. Clarke - 19th Century Polymath and his Scientific Correspondence
Dr Ann Moyal AM
Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre.
The Meeting will commence at 7:00 pm.

The speaker will be Dr Ann Moyal AM. Dr Moyal is a leading historian of
Australian Science, a graduate of the
University of Sydney and a Doctor of Letters from the Australian National
University. She is the author of many books and papers.
Dr Moyal will speak on the topic of her book that was recently launched at the
State Library:
"The Scientific Correspondence of the Rev. W B Clarke, Australia's Pioneer Geologist ".
As most members will also be aware, The Rev. W.B. Clarke was an early founding
member of the Society and served as inaugural and an influential Vice President
for seven years.

​Wednesday
23rd February

​Four Societies Meeting: Geothermal Energy in Australia
Dr Doone Wyborn
The Four Societies Meeting is a meeting of the Nuclear Engineering Panel of Engineers
Australia, Australian Institute of Energy, Australian Nuclear Association and
the Royal Society of NSW.
Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Harricks Auditorium, Ground Floor, Eagle House, 118 Alfred Street,
Milsons Point.

This year the Four Societies Meeting will be separate from our February 1132nd
General Meeting above and will be hosted by Engineers Australia. Dr Doone
Wyborn, Executive Director, Geodynamics has agreed to be the Guest Speaker on
the topic of Geothermal Energy in Australia.
Geodynamics have drilled one well in the Cooper Basin of South Australia to a
depth of 4.5 km, intersecting rock in excess of 240C, and have a second well
underway. They expect to start production in 2006. I am sure these developments
will be of interest to members.

​Wednesday
11th March

​The Royal Society of New South Wales Annual Dinner
Time: 7.00 for 7.30 pm
Venue: Forum Restaurant, Darlington Centre, Sydney University (City Road)
The Society's Patron, His Excellency, Major General Michael Jeffery AC CVO MC
(Retd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, presented the 2004 Awards.
You can read a transcript of his talk at the Governor-General's site at
Speeches, Media Releases & Vice Regal News (click on Selected Speeches, then search from there) or the text only version at
Speechs - text only.

​Wednesday
6th April

A Hundred Years after Einstein's Extraordinary Year
The Annual General Meeting and the 1133rd Ordinary General Meeting
The President, Ms Karina Kelly will deliver the Presidential Address
Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road

​Wednesday
4th May

Biocosmology: a New Science
Dr Charley Lineweaver, Senior Fellow Planetary Science Institute, Australian National University
Time: 7.00 pm (bar open from 6.00 pm)
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road

​Wednesday
1st June

Bactrian Camels in Antiquity
Prof. Dan Potts,
Edwin Cuthbert Hall Professor of Middle Eastern Archaeology, University of Sydney
Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road

​Wednesday
6th July

Why did the Vertebrate Brain Become Lateralised?
Professor Lesley Rogers, Professor of Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour, University
of New England
Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road

​Wednesday
3rd August

Tails of Dingoes: their Past and their Future
Dr Alan Wilton,
School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of NSW
Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road

​Wednesday
7th September

​Clarke Memorial Lecture and 1138th Ordinary General Meeting
The Ediacara and its Fauna
Professor Pat Vickers-Rich, School of Geosciences, Monash University
Time: 6.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road

​Wednesday
5th Octobe

TB: A New Vaccine and Some Observations on the Influence of Genetics
Professor Warwick Britton, Head, Mycobacterial Research Group, Centenary
Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology, University of Sydney
Time: 6.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road

​Wednesday
2nd November

The Role of DNA studies in the Story of Human Evolution
Dr Sheila van Holst Pellekaan,
Visiting Senior Research Fellow, University of NSW
Time: 6.00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 1, Darlington Centre, City Road

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