Australia wastes 7.3 million tonnes of food a year, with Australian households responsible for dumping more than half of that: about 4.1 million tonnes or around 9kg of food from every home, every week.

But for the first time, we know exactly what we waste, how it is wasted, and where it goes.

Researchers from the University of South Australia have traced the cycle of food waste in a three-year study looking at the economic, environmental and psychological modelling of food waste.

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Christian Reynolds

Food waste has reached ‘pastrygate’ proportions, with government, industry and households throwing away enough pies, pastries and cakes to fill 24 Sydney Opera Houses in one year, an Adelaide economist has shown.

Christian Reynolds, of The University of South Australia, estimated that over 629,000 tonnes of pies, pastries and cakes were discarded in 2008, with total food wastage at 8.7 million tonnes.

“Not only is food waste taking up valuable landfill space, but it is increasing Australia’s carbon footprint through greenhouse gases from decomposition and transport,” says Christian, who conducted the research as part of his PhD.

His research, which was part of a comprehensive study done by The University of South Australia, Flinders University, the Local Government Association of SA and Zero Waste SA, estimated that households discarded 5.5 million tonnes of food waste in 2008, while businesses were responsible for 3.9 million tonnes.

“There were some surprises among the largest food-wasting industries, with retail trade, hotels, clubs, restaurants and cafes; wholesale trade; and education the top four sectors. Now that we have identified them, we can tailor programs to reduce food waste in each of these industries,” Christian says.

But the study was not all bad news. Australian households are engaging in alternative methods of food waste disposal, with an average of 3.2 kilos of food waste per week being diverted to options such as backyard composting or feeding to pet chickens.

“Some local councils now even collect food waste in their green organics bins,” Christian says.

SA State Finalist: Christian Reynolds, University of South Australia

In flour it reduces heart disease risk say Melbourne and WA researchers

You can lower your risk of heart disease significantly, just by using flour containing 40 per cent lupin beans in the place of conventional wholemeal flour, according to research by Victoria University dietitian Dr Regina Belski and colleagues from the University of Western Australia. [click to continue…]

tropical_rock_lobster2A team of Queensland researchers have discovered that lobsters, prawns and other crustaceans have evolved a unique way of making colours: making the complex patterns appreciated by biologists and connoisseurs of seafood.

Their work will help with conservation, aquaculture and may even lead to a new food colourant. And all the colours come from just one molecule.

The colour of seafood is directly linked to its acceptability as food. Highly coloured lobsters and prawns attract a premium price. And for the crustaceans themselves, it’s a matter of survival. [click to continue…]


The world’s fastest growing abalone—the tropical donkey’s ear abalone, Haliotis asinina—can be bred to grow rapidly and reliably for aquaculture, Queensland biologists have found. And that makes it potentially a high value alternative crop for struggling prawn farmers. [click to continue…]

Drinking soy milk or soy-based formula does not trigger peanut allergy in children, researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have found. Their work challenges the results of an influential previous study.

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 Bluefin tuna use three times as much oxygen as other fish their size, making them more difficult to culture. That’s just part of the valuable information uncovered by University of Adelaide PhD student, Quinn Fitzgibbon and his colleagues in a study where they monitored live tuna swimming inside a 350-tonne “waterbed”.

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Fish make omega-3 from noxious weed

Australian scientists have found that fish fed oil extracted from one of Australia’s most damaging noxious weeds, Patterson’s curse, produce health-giving omega-3 oils for human consumption. [click to continue…]

Salads, shampoos and mining to benefit from theoretical
research into droplets

How much effort does it take to understand the behaviour of oil droplets?
A multi-disciplinary team of six researchers from the University of Melbourne
has spent the best part of two years, and used $300,000 of equipment to crack
the problem.

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Researchers in Adelaide have found that a commercially available dietary supplement can improve the attention and behaviour of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The parents of children who spent 15 weeks on a course of capsules containing a combination of fish oil and primrose oil with a high ratio of omega-3 fatty acid EPA reported increased attention and reduced hyperactivity, restlessness and impulsivity, says Natalie Sinn from the University of South Australia and CSIRO Nutrition. The same improvements were not reported from children who took a placebo.

The work involved about 145 children with ADHD-related problems. A parallel study in the UK using the same supplement has shown similar results.

In addition, in the Australian trial, children taking the fish oil supplement also did better on tests of attention, and improved their vocabulary.

“Fish oil is believed to work via effects on brain function,” Sinn says. “Sixty per cent of the brain is composed of fats, the most important being polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fats must be obtained through diet, such as dark leafy vegetables, walnuts, linseeds, and oily fish.

“There is now a growing body of research to suggest that some children with developmental problems, including ADHD and dyslexia, can benefit from taking omega-3 supplements. And no adverse effects have been reported to date.”

Natalie is one of 13 Fresh Scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program hosted by the State Library of Victoria. One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

Hitchhiking pests uncovered

31 August 2004

in 2004

A test for  toxic algae could help save our coastal waters from attack by invading pests

Coastal waters around the world are threatened by invaders lurking in the ballast water of cargo ships.

A new global agreement will require ships to meet strict regulations to ensure they do not harbour any unwanted invaders. New technologies are therefore needed for treating ballast water on board. But which treatments will work? Some of the most dangerous algae can play dead.

CSIRO researcher Monique Binet has developed a new method for determining which ballast water treatment works, and which doesn’t. Her test will do in one day what previously took up to six months.

 “Ballast water is essential to balance the ship’s cargo,” says Monique, one of the Fresh Science winners for 2004. “But some 15,000 species are hitchhiking lifts around the world with the water each week.”

“A particularly notorious type of algae are the toxic dinoflagellates which are capable of poisoning shellfish. These poisoned shellfish can be lethal if eaten by humans. Several international organisations have suggested that these algae should be one of the benchmarks used to assess new treatment technologies.”

“The trouble is that these are tough critters. The dinoflagellates form dormant cysts which can survive for years in the ballast tanks. So testing the different treatment technologies relies on the ability to distinguish between live and dead cysts.”

Until now this has meant painstaking hours of microscopic examination, followed by a wait for up to 26 weeks to see if the cysts germinate into live, swimming algae.

And that’s where the new method developed by Monique and her colleagues at CSIRO’s Centre for Environmental Contaminants Research (CECR) comes in.

“Using a technique called flow cytometry, we can now analyse each and every cyst for its size, structure and fluorescence. Based on these characteristics and the use of a DNA stain, we can tell which cysts will germinate into live cells in a matter of minutes” says Monique.

“The trick was first washing the cysts for 24 hours to remove their mucous coatings, and selecting the right staining conditions, so we can now determine cyst viability within 1 day, instead of the conventional 3-26 weeks.”

The research has attracted interest from around the world with Monique presenting at conferences in Germany and New Zealand.

Monique now plans to apply this method to other species of toxic dinoflagellates as well as other micro-organisms that hitch a ride in the ballast water tanks. Enabling the rapid assessment of ballast water will help prevent these pests from spreading any further.

As found in the sediment of ballast water tanks – the dinoflagellate Alexandrium catenella in its resting cyst form with surrounding mucous.  The dinoflagellate after a wash. The surrounding mucous has been removed allowing it to be analysed with flow cytometry   
The dinoflagellate in its motile form, a cell chain. This can bloom into red tides

Two plant genes have been identified that could lead to new crop varieties resistant to fungal diseases, meaning increased productivity for farmers and improved quality and cheaper costs for consumers.

These two genes can help plants boost their own immunity to disease, resulting in less need for chemical sprays, improved produce quality and increased shelf life for crop products.

Plant diseases are a major problem for growers, especially in northern Australia where fungal disease wipes out millions of dollars of production from grain and forage crops each year.

“Although it may seem quiet on the outside, a molecular war is being waged inside plants under attack from fungal invaders,” said University of Queensland PhD student, Ken McGrath.

Ken was one of 16 students selected to take part in the 2004 Fresh Science Awards held recently in Melbourne, where he presented his research to university students and the general public.

“Plants themselves are not defenceless against disease – inside every cell is an array of defensive weapons that the plant can produce to prevent the intruder from taking over,” Ken said.

As part of his research with the CRC for Tropical Plant Protection, Ken is looking to see how the two genes he has identified can be used to boost a plant’s own natural defences against fungal attacks.

“Knowledge of how both of these genes work allows us to develop plants that are able to defend themselves against a fungal attack more effectively,” he said.

“Plants that have their troops always at their post are potentially resistant to a range of fungal diseases, because they have a head start on the invader.”

This study has developed plants with higher levels of their own natural defences in place, ready to resist fungal disease.

These plants are currently being examined to see if an activated defence system translates into increased resistance against a number of agriculturally important fungal diseases that affect valuable crops like bananas, cotton, wheat and barley.

 If successful, this research will result in cheaper and better quality produce that has been treated with fewer chemicals and is more resistant to spoilage.

 “By putting the balance of power back with the plants, we can help them win their battle against their fungal foes.”

Arabidopsis thaliana Ken isolating diseased cells Ken preparing samples  

Ken with his resistant plants

Using a UV illuminator to visualise genes

Cows produce more milk if they are given a choice of food, according to a study released today in Melbourne.

“Presentation and choice of food affects how much we eat. It’s the same for cows,” says University of Melbourne researcher, Danni Marotti. [click to continue…]


Illness traced to waxy fish

23 August 2001

in 2001

Laboratory detective work has helped to identify the real culprit in causing illness from eating fish in southern and eastern Australia.

Oil analysis of suspect fillets by Ben Mooney and colleagues of CSIRO Marine Research found the presumed culprit, rudderfish, innocent of all charges. [click to continue…]

More mums can breast feed successfully

First images of the breast in action

Mothers can be concerned that they do not have a letdown when breastfeeding, so their babies cannot get enough milk.  For the first time, Donna Ramsey from The University of Western Australia has used ultrasound to capture moving images of letdown in the breast while a baby is breastfeeding.  The work is helping rewrite the anatomy of the breast.

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Tasmanian researchers have found that krill, the small ocean crustaceans important for feeding the rest of the ocean’s animals, are able to protect themselves from the harmful ultra-violet light in the sun’s rays through a combination of diet and exercise. [click to continue…]