1000 words to describe complex stuff, simply!

We tasked our Honours students to explain their research project using the 1000 most common (simple) English words as established by Randall Munroe, e.g. food-heating radio box = a microwave!  See if you can guess their research and what creature/organism they are studying.

Natural Trap Cave (NTC) update installment

The Barefoot team visited the cavers, archaeologist, paleontologist and biologists at Natural Trap Cave to capture the international team at work.   Fossils as old as 30,000 years were uncovered and taken back to research labs for investigation, including ACAD.  We are working on analysing the array of samples discovered.

Natural Trap Cave – The Pleistocene Epoch from Barefoot on Vimeo.

GMOs: not just for dinner

By Raphael Eisenhofer

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a controversial topic. Broadly speaking, they can be defined as “any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques”. In this case, “genetic material” refers to an organism’s DNA, which is the heritable blueprint of life. DNA has four “letters”: A, C, G, and T. Different combinations of these create “words” (called genes) which can be read by our cell’s machinery to build proteins. Proteins are the workhorse molecules of life, performing a diverse set of important tasks in the body, such as producing energy and providing structure to your cells. Continue reading

Extracting DNA: separating the wheat from the chaff

By Andrew Farrer

Reading the sequence of DNA molecules (the order of As, Gs, Cs, and Ts) is how ACAD researchers reconstruct the history of life. However, life at a cellular level is an intricate dance of simple and complex molecules – proteins, fats, carbohydrates – all working in concert to keep cells alive. DNA is part of this dance, the sheet music from which the music is read, providing the master copy of instructions for complex molecules such as enzymes. To ensure each of these molecules is made only when they’re needed, the DNA is not free-floating, but bound, packaged, and carefully regulated. Unfortunately, sequencing machines can only deal with pure DNA; all those other molecules will cause critical errors. So first we must separate the DNA wheat from the chaff by doing a DNA extraction.


Figure 1: Wheat seed heads. Before the wheat grains can be used, the tough dry cases enclosing them – the husk or “chaff” – must be removed. Credit: Dako99.

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Recovery and identification of missing servicemen

By Jeremy Austin

As we approach the commemoration of ANZAC Day, we are reminded of the more than 25,000 Australian servicemen missing in action who have yet to be recovered and identified. On the 17th June 1917, British and Australian forces launched an offensive against German lines at Messines in Belgium.  Made famous by the film “Beneath Hill 60” , the Battle of Messines  was one of the most successful campaigns by the Allies on the Western Front during World War 1. However, success came at a terrible price with more than 13,500 Australian casualties. Continue reading

Micro-magicians make the cheese

By Raphael Eisenhofer

Microbes get a bad rap. Like many things in life, we focus on their negative aspects—ignoring the positives. While some microbes can make us sick, most of them do not, and many actually help us! One tasty example of humans and microbes working together is the production of cheese.


Fig. 1: A tiny subset of the varieties of cheese! Credit: dairy.org

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LabARTory – the art of science architecture

By Andrew Farrer

I didn’t make a mistake; I intentionally used Bing. I learnt two interesting things from this: Firstly, it’s amazing how a different search engine introduces you to a very different range of information. Secondly, a lot more thought went into the artistic design of the ACAD ancient DNA lab than I had ever suspected. Continue reading