with Herald science writer Jamie Morton: @jamienzherald
How did Aussie get its snakes?
Ever wonder where Australia’s deadly snakes slithered in from?
A new study is helping scientists explain how they descended from creatures that came from Asia over the past 30 million years.
Australian National University’s Dr Paul Oliver says about 85 per cent of more than 1000 snake and lizard species in Australia descended from creatures that floated across waters from Asia to Australia.
The research helps explain how Australia has become home to about 11 per cent of the world’s 6300 reptile species — the highest proportion of any country.
“Around 30 million years ago it appears that the world changed, and subsequently there was an influx of lizard and snakes into Australia,” Oliver says.
“We think this is linked to how Australia’s
rapid movement north, by continental movement standards, has changed ocean currents and global climates.”
The researchers conducted the study using animal tree-of-life data combined with empirical evidence and simulations.
The origins for reptiles contrast with other Australian animal groups including marsupials and birds, which include many more species descended from ancestors that lived on Gondwana, a super continent that included Australia, Antarctica, South America, Africa and Madagascar.
Oliver says the study has found that the immigration of reptiles into Australia was clustered in time.
“The influx of lizards and snakes into Australia corresponds with a time when fossil evidence suggests animal and plant communities underwent major changes across the world,” he says.
“The movement of Australia may have been a key driver of these global changes.”
Downloading data — to your clothes
A new smart fabric could pave the way for jackets that store invisible passcodes and open the door to your home or office.
US computer scientists have created fabrics and fashion accessories that can store data — from security codes to identification tags — without needing any on-board electronics or sensors.
The University of Washington team has used previously unexplored magnetic properties of off-the-shelf conductive thread.
The data can be read using an instrument embedded in a smartphone to enable navigation apps.
“This is a completely electronic-free design, which means you can iron the smart fabric or put it in the washer and dryer,” study author Associate Professor Shyam Gollakota says.
“You can think of the fabric as a hard disk — you’re actually doing this data storage on the clothes you’re wearing.”
Most people combine conductive thread — embroidery thread that can carry an electrical current — with other types of electronics to create outfits, stuffed animals or accessories that light up or communicate.
But the researchers realised this off-theshelf conductive thread has magnetic
properties that can be manipulated to store digital data or visual information such as letters or numbers.
This data can be read by a magnetometer, an inexpensive instrument that measures the direction and strength of magnetic fields and is embedded in most smartphones.
“We are using something that already exists on a smartphone and uses almost no power, so the cost of reading this type of data is negligible,” Gollakota says.
The fabric can be remagnetised and reprogrammed multiple times and a fabric patch retained its data even after machine washing, drying and ironing at temperatures of up to 160C.
The team also says the magnetised fabric could be used to interact with a smartphone while it is in a pocket. “We can easily interact with smart devices without having to constantly take them out of our pockets,” lead author Justin Chan says.