Helix @ CSIRO

For kids who love science


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Getting ahead in bread

Scientists are shedding light on bread wheat's genome. Image: © iStock.com/ithinksky

Scientists are shedding light on bread wheat’s genome.
Image: © iStock.com/ithinksky

Wheat is Australia’s main winter crop. Sown in autumn and harvested in spring or summer, it provides us with flour to make our daily bread. We eat wheat as toast with vegemite, or sandwiches for lunch. But wheat is not for everyone, as eating it can cause trouble for some people, such as those with coeliac disease.

Songs and hymns have been sung for bread, yet even today it has its mysteries. Like all living things, it contains a genome – the collection of its genetic material, such as DNA. Scientists have found the DNA sequence for the genomes of humans, lions, tigers and bears. Oh my, but bread wheat is a whole other story.

“With bread wheat, it is a big challenge,” says Ute Baumann at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. “Bread wheat has a genome more than five times larger than the human genome. It’s massive. Rice is tiny by comparison.” Continue reading


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We’re moving – you won’t notice a thing (we hope)!

We're moving

CSIRO@Helix is moving
Image: istock

We want to let all our valued readers, subscribers and followers know that we are moving the Helix@CSIRO to blogs.csiro.au/helix.

This is very exciting for us, as it will allow us to make some helpful changes to the Helix@CSIRO blog over the coming months.

At this stage everything will stay the same. We’ll keep posting the latest science and maths news and activities for you to enjoy and share.

This site will be re-directed and we will begin migrating our email followers this (Friday) afternoon. There’s no need for you to do anything – just sit back, relax and enjoy the new site.

WordPress followers, take a moment to bookmark our new site blogs.csiro.au/helix and why not subscribe via email to ensure you don’t miss a thing!

We hope you continue to visit and enjoy our content!

The Double Helix Team


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Prefix quiz

Many words have secret numbers hidden within! Discover them with this pair of quizzes. You can download a printable pdf version here and a Word version here.

A monorail on a raised track.

Sydney’s monorail was dismantled in 2013.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Reinhard Dietrich

Geeky Greek

  1. How many rails does a monorail ride on?
  2. Carbon dioxide has how many oxygen atoms in each molecule?
  3. How many horns does a Triceratops have?
  4. In the computer game Tetris, how many squares is each shape made of?
  5. How many notes in a pentatonic scale? Continue reading


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Bio-printing blood vessels

Diagram of human showing blood vessels

The network of blood vessels around your body is very complex.
Image: © iStock.com/traveler1116

3D printers can create toys, bicycle parts and models of dinosaur bones. Bio-printers are 3D printers with a difference. They can actually print structures containing living cells, the same kind of cells that make up the human body!

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could have a new liver or kidney printed for you, if yours was damaged by an accident or disease? It’s a big dream, but scientists are working on the problem now.

One big obstacle to bio-printing a whole organ, like a liver, is that it needs a big network of blood vessels to keep the cells alive. Blood provides cells with life-giving oxygen and nutrients, and also removes waste. Most cells are just a hair’s width from a supply of blood. Blood vessels need to reach everywhere – it’s a big challenge.

Luiz Bertassoni from the University of Sydney is part of the team that has bio-printed blood vessels. The team used two different materials, which were fluid enough to print and then could be made solid. “One material can be solidified with low temperature, it’s a material from seaweed called agarose,” he says. “The other is a jelly-like material (from gelatine), which was solidified by light. Using a combination of both was one of the tricks we had to use to create these vascular networks.” Continue reading


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Gold test for diabetes

Structure of insulin

A computer-generated image of insulin, the chemical that allows sugar to enter your cells.
Image: CSIRO Science Image

Researchers have made a cheap and rapid new test to diagnose type 1 diabetes using a gold-studded glass chip. 

Each day, around 280 Australians are diagnosed with diabetes. There are many different types of diabetes, and they are all connected by insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, an organ located behind your stomach. It controls how much sugar gets from your blood into the muscles and other cells of the body. Both insulin and sugar are needed to give your cells energy, so diabetes can be very dangerous.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means the body is attacking itself. The immune system creates antibodies that target cells in the pancreas, causing damage that stops it making insulin. On the other hand, in type 2 diabetes the body does not attack itself with antibodies, but either the pancreas is damaged by another way, or the muscles and other cells have stopped responding to insulin.

When someone has diabetes, it is not always easy for doctors to know whether it is type 1 or type 2. The test is to look at their blood for the pancreas-targeting antibodies found in type 1 diabetes. This test is quite slow and expensive. Faster and cheaper tests just weren’t sensitive enough to detect antibodies. To overcome this problem, a team from Stanford University in the USA used nanotechnology. Continue reading


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Make a snowflake!

You will need

an arrow pointing to a corner of a folded piece of paper.

The ‘centre corner’ is where the creases meet.

  • Thin paper
  • Scissors

What to do

  1. Fold the paper in quarters.
  2. Your folded piece of paper has two folded sides and two unfolded sides. The folded sides meet at a corner – call this the ‘middle corner’.
  3. Imagine dividing the middle corner into three equal angles. You could measure it with a protractor, but it doesn’t need to be accurate. Fold along the two imaginary lines that trisect your corner.
    Continue reading


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Australia’s largest Aboriginal ochre mine

Brendan Hamlett at Yallabilli Mindi

Brendan Hamlett at Yallabilli Mindi.
Image: Annie Carson

It’s National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week. What better time to celebrate a shared research project between the Wajarri people and the University of Western Australia!

Australia’s largest Aboriginal ochre mine is Wilgie Mia. In Wajarri Yamatji country far north of Perth, it is an incredibly important cultural heritage site. Red, yellow and green ochres from the mine have been traded across the country for many thousands of years.

It’s said that ochre from Wilgie Mia was traded across Western Australia into the Kimberley, the Pilbara, down to the south coast and into neighbouring states. Red and yellow ochres are still an important part of Indigenous Australian cultures today.

This week, three young Wajarri men are visiting the University of Western Australia to work alongside archeologist Vicky Winton. Together, they are studying samples from several new sites near Wilgie Mia. Continue reading

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