UNLOCKED Archives

February 2013

  • 28 February 2013

    Team Effort Brightens Future of Science

    The South Australian Museum is a place where the natural world is documented; it is also a hub of new ideas where young and more experienced minds combine their knowledge.

    Together, the best and brightest scientists and students challenge known concepts to forge new paths in science. They are solving key problems in the world by using the expertise of researchers in our Science Centre, who are training future leaders in fields such as Biology, Mineralogy and Palaeontology.

    Every year, Museum scientists supervise PhD students from the University of Adelaide and Flinders University. They also have an agreement with the University of Ancona in Italy to welcome exchange students to work on their projects Adelaide. From studying life in Antarctica and mapping biodiversity in South Australia's outback to dissecting deceased dolphins – local and international students are guided by our experts through their challenging studies.

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  • 21 February 2013

    "Rainbow Bones" - How are they formed?

    Opals are highly sought-after rainbow precious stones that are showcased in jewellery or decorative art.

    In addition to their aesthetic appeal, opals play a very significant role in science.

    Australia produces 95% of the world's precious opals and they are formed in sedimentary rocks. The remaining few are usually found in volcanic areas around the world.

    South Australian Museum research has looked at what leads opal to form in wood and bone, and in some cases, ancient dinosaur fossils. The beautiful spectrum of colours is found on many valuable historic specimens in Australia, but several questions remain about how and why opal forms on fossils. The Museum has a stunning collection of opalised fossils and continues to study what creates these treasures.

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  • 14 February 2013

    Cryptic Clues: Spot the Difference with DNA

    Scientists at the South Australian Museum are using molecular techniques to unlock one of nature's secrets – cryptic species.

    Cryptic species appear almost identical and you can't reliably tell them apart based on their physical features. Despite their similar looks, cryptic species are genetically very different and can't interbreed.

    In recent years, large-scale DNA sequencing technology has become more efficient and affordable and is increasingly being used to more accurately identify species. The technology is a valuable tool that is enabling researchers to reclassify many of the world's species, more reliably identify existing species, and uncover many new ones.

    A study of Australian freshwater crustaceans (amphipods) by Dr Remko Leijs and Dr Rachael King has confirmed the existence of two species using DNA analyses. The two species had previously been classified based on slight physical differences and poorly understood geographical distributions. This made identifications quite haphazard and controversial.

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  • 06 February 2013

    Gateway to the Endangered World

    The South Australian Museum's galleries offer visitors the unique experience of being transported to other worlds through different cultures, languages, artefacts and natural resources.

    A rather unusual and steadily growing collection is bringing people face to face with parts of endangered animals which have been brought into the country illegally. Australian Customs approached the Museum several years ago to ask whether we would display some of the weird and wonderful souvenirs confiscated at airports. The intention was to educate people about the impact of the tourist trade on these endangered species and deter people from bringing in similar items.

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  • 01 February 2013

    Evolution’s Deluge of Data

    The South Australian Museum's Evolutionary Biology Unit is an incredible hub of talented researchers who are asking the key questions about life: how are organisms related? How do we adapt to our environment? What roles do particular genes play in evolution? Their studies offer amazing windows into the past and the future.

    Advances in technology mean researchers can generate more data about organisms than ever before. So much in fact, that finding, using and keeping the information can be a very difficult and expensive task.

    To produce the essential, complex comparisons that illustrate stories of evolution for us, scientists pour through hundreds of millions of DNA sequences, which is provided to them in the form of the letters A, C, G and T. They find the same gene in different organisms and compare them to make decisions about its behaviour or physical changes. Managing the information takes such skill that an entirely separate field of science – Bioinformatics – exists.

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