HDH: Quolls pass training test

15 04 2010

This weeks Hump Day Happy via DaveTheHappySinger

Cane toads were a bad idea. A very bad idea. An insanely bad idea. But anyway, Australia is now stuck with rampaging toxic amphibians threatening almost all our native wildlife. Amongst those threatened are native carnivores. Aside from birds and snakes, there is a whole range of little superficially rodent-looking marsupials, and quolls.

Quolls are awesome. Just from having an awesome name like “Quoll” (and providing more ‘q’ words in scrabble). They aren’t wimpy like “possums” and “sugar gliders”, these critters eat MEAT. Sadly, toads are made from meat, so quolls will naturally try to to eat toads. And then they die. Which is sad.

So the happy news at ABC is that scientists at University of Sydney have been successfully training small groups of quolls to resist the urge to eat cane toads using aversion therapy. The quolls were exposed to small toads sprayed with a nauseating compound which made trying to eat the delicious grenouilles quite unappealing.

“The toad was hopping around. It looked like something good to eat, but once they sniffed it they got that signal saying, ‘Hey, we’re not good to eat’ and they ignored it.” – Dr. Jonathan Webb

A video of the training process is also up on the ABC.

When released into the wild and monitored, trained quolls had higher survival rates than untrained quolls.

The scientists hope that toad training can be initiated ahead of the toad invasion front, so that by the time the toads reach that area the quolls (and other animals) no better than to try and eat one.

The actual scientific article can be found at the Journal of Applied Ecology (you’ll need a Wiley InterScience subscription) DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01802.x

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Can you hear that colour?

30 05 2009

Next week on Wednesday (June 3rd) the University of Sydney is hosting a free lecture on synesthesia – the peculiar concept of cross-sensory stimulation.

Imagine a world of magenta Tuesdays, tastes of blue, and wavy green symphonies. At least one in a hundred otherwise normal people experience the world this way in a condition called synesthesia. In synesthesia, stimulation of one sense triggers an experience in a different sense. For example, a voice or music are not only heard but may also be seen.

Synesthesia is a fusion of different sensory perceptions: the feel of sandpaper might evoke a sensation of forest green, a symphony might be experienced in blues and golds, or the concept of February might trigger the perception of orange.

Hearing Colours, Tasting Sounds: The Kaleidoscope of Synethesia with Dr David Eagleman (Baylor) starts at 6:00pm at the New Law School, Lecture Theatre 101.

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Human parasite’s goody two shoes cousin helps coral

28 08 2008

Malaria is one of the most important infectious diseases under study today. It has been with us since early medical history, and still persists as a major global threat.

The disease is caused by a parasite – a multicellular microorganism. Not just a simple bacteria, the malaria plasmodium is a complex critter that still remains quite mysterious. It is very hard to work with in the laboratory: it doesn’t culture well and the risks involved are immense.

The discovery of a non-infectious relative (albeit, rather distant) by Australian researchers is exciting news for many.

Paydirt hasn’t quite been hit as far as medical research. However the fun isn’t just for medicos, but the evolutionary biologists as well.

Chromera velia is clearly related to Plasmodium parasites, but rather than being a blood-borne obligate parasite of mammals and insects that rarely sees light of day, it is a plankton-like photosynthesising obligate symbiont of corals.

These long-lost cousins are so very different, it could almost make the ghost script of the next Wil Farrell comedy (or not, besides its been done before).

Can they really be from the same origin?

The evidence is convincing.

For more information, take a read of a great interview (it says so in the title) with the scientists responsible for the discovery, as well as the University of Sydney press release.

Image: Copyright University of Sydney. Use only for non-commercial and educational purposes with attribution.