ten things that are getting better

by Jo Walker and Samantha Prendergast

ten things 1

OUR SUPPLY OF REEFS Here in Australia we tend to look northward for our fix of coloured corals and photogenic, Disney-approved fish. Now scientists reckon there’s a rival to the Great Barrier Reef in the waters south of Melbourne. Recently, Parks Victoria sent a remote-controlled research vehicle down 100m or so to check out deep sea life in Wilsons Promontory National Park. They found rare fish, ridges and caverns of hard and soft corals, and some “particularly exciting” sponge gardens, apparently. Robots are also helping out on the more famous Great Barrier Reef up in Queensland. Boffins from QUT have developed an autonomous robot that can recognise and destroy the coral-nibbling crown-of-thorns starfish. Take that, you reef-destroying bastards!

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FEMINIST-APPROVED CARTOONS Though its creator originally invented the formula as a bit of a pisstake, the Bechdel test – which asks whether a movie features two named female characters talking to each other about something other than a man – has become a handy shorthand for lady representation in film. According to the Women in Film association, the pass rate for animated flicks deserves a special thumbs up, coming in at 59.1% for 2012, 72.7% for 2013 and 64.3% for 2014. (That final score might seem disappointing, but 2014 was the worst Bechdel year since 1994, with an overall pass rate of just 52.4%.) This recent uptick in animated lady business has been dubbed “the Frozen effect”. Never underestimate the power of a carrot-nosed snowman and the lyrics to “Let it Go”.

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TESTS ‘DOWN THERE’ While pap smears are definitely a good thing, they’re certainly not pleasant. Vaginal probing seems like an activity for the bedroom and not for a sterile office, doesn’t it? Every two years, many of us have to call the GP and ask for a double appointment with a female doctor. But from 2017, we’ll only have to do this once every five years. Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Currently, pap smears look for changes in the cells of the cervix. But in the future, doctors will scrape our vaginas to look for the presence of HPV – and we can take an extra three-year break between dates with the speculum.

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THE CHANCES OF GETTING TO MARS Though that whole Mars One/reality TV/one-way ticket thing seems to have fizzled out, good old NASA is still on track for the Red Planet. They just launched a year-long experiment in isolation-living, plopping a six-person team inside a small dome shelter sitting atop a Hawaiian volcano. Each team member has their own tiny sleeping pod and desk, and will spend their downtime eating foods like powdered cheese and canned tuna. (They’ll also have to chuck on a full space suit every time they set foot outdoors.) NASA is currently betting on a human mission to Mars taking between one and three years. They’re hoping to take that next small step for man sometime in the 2030s.

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SPACE WHISKY With the prospect of interplanetary travel getting closer, we as a species need to ask ourselves: how are we going to get pissed in space? Scottish whisky makers Ardberg may have the answer. They sent an experimental vial of unmatured malt whisky to the International Space Station to compare its flavour with a control sample back on Earth. Now both batches have been scoffed, experts reckon there are major differences. Space whisky, apparently, has an “intense aroma”, with “hints of antiseptic smoke, rubber and smoked fish, along with a curious, perfumed note, like violet or cassis, and powerful woody tones”. Happily, another whisky company has already come up with a fancy, zero-gravity sippy cup made of 3D-printed plastic and gold for optimal space quaffing.

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BETTY WHITE Sure, Betty White will always be known for her vintage work as Mary Tyler Moore’s sneaky Sue Ann Nivens and the ditsy Rose Nylund of The Golden Girls. But there’s no denying that in these latter days of her career she’s absolutely slaying. Two years ago the Guinness World Records people handed her the gong for having the longest TV career for a female entertainer. (She’ll also go down in history as the first woman to produce a sitcom.) In the past 10 years, Betty has hosted Saturday Night Live, guested on My Name is Earl, Community and 30 Rock and starred in Hot in Cleveland and Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, a show in which pensioners play practical jokes on the younger generations. She is currently 95.

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REASONS TO HAVE A LIE-IN Think about it. Employee illness costs the Australian economy about $28 billion annually. Scientists have just discovered that lack of sleep is the top cause of the common cold. Therefore having a lie-in is doing your boss, your industry and your country a favour, gosh darn it! Research recently published in the journal Sleep shows that a lack of zzzz’s is by far and away the greatest factor in determining which folk get a cold. (Far more than age, stress levels and whether or not people smoke.) A recent study out of the University of Pennsylvania also suggested that office opening hours be pushed back to 10am. So that’s one more reason to hit the snooze button.

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BULLDOGS With their ugly-cute looks and chill personalities (never mind their uncanny impersonations of Winston Churchill), British Bulldogs are sentimental favourites among the pooch-loving community. But over the years, the breed has developed a sad array of health issues related to breathing; eye irritation; bad knee, hip and elbow joints; eczema; heart problems and breeding difficulties. (Most dogs have such narrow hips they can’t give birth naturally.) A can-do attitude from some Queensland breeders has changed all that, though. They’ve set out to create the Aussie Bulldog – a pet breed designed to be far healthier and happier than its true Brit counterpart. With the Aussie Bulldog Club of Australia officially founded in 2007, things are looking up for squishy-faced mutts.

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PRINTED BODY PARTS Once, printers were just printers. They pumped out things like words and pictures onto materials like paper. Those were simple times. Now, doctors use printers to create 3D body parts and they put those parts into humans. Need some spine implants? Yup, can do. Prosthetic hand? The printing gods are onto it. Teams in the US are now printing out exact replicas of their patients’ tumours and testing cancer treatments on them in real time. Some heart surgeons are also experimenting with printing replica organs before an operation so they can have a play with all the bits and pieces before digging in for real. The next big step is implantable 3D soft tissue and organs, which experts reckon is about five years away.

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ICE-CREAM TECHNOLOGY Drippy soft-serve season is upon us, but there is reason to hope. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh and University of Dundee have come up with a way to keep ice-cream frozen at hot temperatures using a naturally occurring protein called BsIA. The idea is that the protein helps the ice-cream keep its cool by binding droplets of fat to air bubbles – making the fat (and the icy treat) more stable. At this stage experts reckon BsIA will buy a few more minutes of licking time per ice-cream and could be on the market in three to five years’ time. By which point we’ll all be able to point at the sun and laugh while unhurriedly chomping on a Cornetto.

You may very well remember this story from our delightful issue 68. Sweet snap by Lukasz Wierzbowski.

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