Cosmos Magazine Issue 87

Global science, from a unique Australian perspective.

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The Royal Institution of Australia Inc
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1 min
what’s not to love?

It’s a bad year from a PR perspective to be a bat, but tell that to this intriguing character – Myotis myotis, the greater mouse-eared bat. Although about the body size of a house mouse, M. myotis has been known to live for 37 human years with little or no decline in health and vitality. If humans exhibited the same age-for-weight traits, the oldest of us would stretch healthily to 230 or more years. Bats also harbour a variety of coronaviruses – which to them are harmless. How do they do it? Turn to our story on page 38 to learn more.…

1 min
from the royal institution of australia

In these extraordinary times, I hope that you and your loved ones are staying safe wherever you’re experiencing the isolation brought on by COVID-19. At the time of going to print, we are taking the first steps towards reopening as a society and somewhat nervously anticipating what that means for the future. Having only recently started as CEO of the Royal Institution of Australia, I’ve been inordinately proud of how our small team has risen to the personal and professional challenges brought about by current circumstances, including this edition of Cosmos, which “pivoted” mid-production… the carefully planned stories regarding the science surrounding the now-deferred Tokyo Olympics are filed for a future issue. Our organisation is a charity that exists to contribute to a better, smarter world by making science accessible and compelling…

2 min
from the editors

THE WORLD IN WHICH you’re reading this is not the world we lived in when we embarked on Cosmos’s 87th issue. We are locked down, socially restricted, alert and a little alarmed at the potential that SARS-CoV-2 has brought to our doorstep. It’s also a world that scientists are making better, one problem, one fact and one solution at a time. Our big global problem is being solved in the way science does: in myriad teeny tiny little facets, as Fiona McMillan shows in her story about virus detectives. She talks to the frontline fixers taking part in an unprecedented global collaboration combining genetics, virology, pharmacology and immunology. Also in this issue Dyani Lewis explores the basis and process of the epidemic modelling that we all knew so little about and…

1 min
behind the scenes in this issue

Encapsulating the trials and triumphs of producing this issue, the portrait of epidemic modeller Freya Shearer (right, on left) on page 111 was taken by fellow modeller and flatmate Rebecca Chisholm (assisted by Daisy Dog), giving us the chance to share the excitement of work in a field less noticed in pre-COVID times. Meanwhile, digital editor Nick Carne shared our last issue with a curious Antarctic friend recently (far right). Luckily, Nick’s adventure in the Deep South concluded with one of the last flights out of South America pre-lockdown, and he was home in time to continue choosing and reporting the best latest science news on…

2 min
gondwana in amber

An international team of palaeontologists has discovered an assortment of intact amber fossils in Australia and New Zealand that date from the mid-Paleogene to the Late Triassic, 230 to 40 million years ago, reporting their find in the journal Scientific Reports. The discovery includes southern Gondwana’s earliest fossil record of diverse groups of animals, plants and microorganisms, according to first author Jeffrey Stilwell from Monash University, Melbourne, and showcases the antiquity of modern life on Earth. It gives us “our first definitive glimpses of ancient subpolar greenhouse Earth ecosystems, when Australia and Antarctica were attached and situated much further south in higher latitudes”, he says. Among the relics are the first Australian fossils of slender springtails – a tiny, wingless hexapod – a cluster of juvenile spiders, biting midges (Ceratopogonidae) and the oldest…

2 min
homo erectus keeps getting older

An international team led by Australia’s La Trobe University has discovered the earliest known skull of Homo erectus, the first of our ancestors to be nearly human-like in its anatomy and aspects of its behaviour. The two-million-year-old fossil – believed to be of a child just two or three years old – was reconstructed from more than 150 fragments excavated over five years from the Drimolen cave system north of Johannesburg in South Africa. It suggests that Homo erectus existed 100,000 to 200,000 years earlier than previously thought. The researchers also uncovered the oldest known skull of the species Paranthropus, and their analysis reveals that in fact three hominin genera – Australopithecus being the third – were living as contemporaries in the area two million years ago. Combined with other evidence, this leads them…