Aliens, or old friends?

HUMAN infants were born on forest floors for thousands of years before the advent of sterile hospital theatres yet our race not only survived, it thrived, says University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Fraser Coast Nursing Lecturer Ruth Newby.

“Today, human infants born by cesarean section are at a nutritional disadvantage compared to those born naturally,” Mrs Newby said.

“A cesarean-born baby will take longer for its gut to be colonised in the same way as an infant born naturally because it doesn’t get the same ‘bugs’ from the mother.”

Modern society’s excessive reliance on disinfectants and antibiotics will be in the spotlight at the USQ Fraser Coast Open Day this Sunday (August 2) when the local scientist and research fellow makes her Future Talks presentation titled Aliens, or old friends?

“Most of us look into the night sky and wonder if there is intelligent life somewhere else in the universe,” Mrs Newby said.

“When we look for aliens in outer space, what we don’t always recognise is that aliens are not only around us in our environment but actually inside us.

“We look at our own planet and think scientists know all about everything on Earth but we are yet to discover the full spectrum of life here.

“Humans are intrinsically reliant on the organisms in our gut to make us healthy, to nourish us, yet we don’t know everything that’s there. We don’t recognize the DNA signature of about 25% of what’s in our gut so it’s a very alien environment.”

Mrs Newby said animals also had unidentified life forms inside their bodies.

Ruth Newby

Lecturer Ruth Newby talks about Aliens and old friends.

“Koalas only digest gum leaves because they have microorganisms in their gut that allow them to ferment the leaves and extract the goodness,” she said.

“The microorganisms get there during birth. The babies eat their mothers’ waste to colonise themselves with the ‘bugs’ that allow them gain nourishment from their environment, enabling them to live.

“Baby koalas separated from their mothers soon after birth are unable to digest gum leaves and die.

“Humans also get a lot of nourishment from the microorganisms that come from the outside environment into our gut.

“In the earliest years of human existence, infants were born on forest floors so they naturally got a good gulp of mum’s ‘bugs’.

“Only now we’re learning how these aliens inside us are intrinsic to our health. We’ve been led to believe all bugs are bad but many bugs are incredibly important.”

Mrs Newby said the largest part of the human immune system was in the gut.

“Our immune system is involved in sensing and tolerating the external environment and it needs to learn how to identify what is good and what is concerning.

“If doesn’t get exposed to the entirety of the outside environment including the ‘bugs’ we get from our mothers during birth, it learns the wrong lessons.”

Mrs Newby is a USQ medical scientist, nursing lecturer and University of Queensland research fellow.

Her PhD project – Feeding Queensland Babies Study – investigates infant feeding attitudes and behaviours among first-time mothers in Queensland.


Feature photo: Are aliens closer to home than the moon?

Riverside college wins top science gong for Queensland

MARYBOROUGH’S Riverside Christian College has won the right to represent Queensland at the Australian Super Challenge in Newcastle later this year.


Riverside Christian College science students will represent Queensland in the Australian Super Challenge.

The team of Years 9 and 10 students clocked up a massive total of 1330.45 points at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Fraser Coast Science and Engineering Challenge held at the Hervey Bay PCYC in May. Fraser Coast Anglican College followed in second place with 816 points.

Challenge team leader Chris Hendry said because organisers had been unable to secure a committee to host the Queensland Super Challenge this year, the highest scoring winning team from all of the state’s regional events in 2015 would represent Queensland at the national titles.

“I am delighted to announce the winning school is Riverside Christian College of the Fraser Coast,” Mr Hendry said.

“Should Riverside Christian College decline the opportunity to attend the national final in Newcastle on October 30, the second placed winner – Chinchilla State High School from the Darling Downs on 1261.80 points – will be invited.

“I’d like to thank all schools that participated in our program this year.”

Riverside Christian College teacher Hans Schmidt said staff were “totally over the moon” after hearing the news of their win yesterday (July 7).

“It’s awesome! The students will be so excited. They’re on school holiday at the moment so they don’t know yet but the staff do and we’re all very excited.

“After winning the regional title in May we all felt we did a good job so there was a glimmer of hope but you just don’t know. All of Queensland was competing so no one really expected to win.

“Something quite extreme would have to happen for us to not go.

“We have seen an increase in student interest in physics and other engineering related subjects in Years 11 and 12 since our involvement with the challenge. It is a brilliantly organised event at all stages of the competition by both volunteer groups and sponsors.”

The annual Science and Engineering Challenge runs in every Australian state and territory. In 2014 more than 22,000 students participated nationally.

It is now a regular part of the school year and is highly valued by science and technology teachers.

University of Southern Queensland runs the challenge in conjunction with the University of Newcastle’s Faculty of Science and Information Technology, and Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment.

The Department of Industry (DOI) provides core funding for the challenge.


Photo:  Riverside Christian College students arrive at the Hervey Bay PCYC for the regional USQ Fraser Coast Science and Engineering Challenge in May.

USQ student ambassador digs archaeology

FROM Australia’s Arnhem Land to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, the world will become one big digging patch for University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Student Ambassador Elli Tonscheck after she completes her Bachelor of Arts (Archaeology) this year.

Now in her third and final year of Undergraduate studies, Ms Tonscheck is looking forward to discovering where her university qualification will take her. To register as an archaeologist she also needs to complete a one-year Honours degree in 2016.


USQ Student Ambassador Elli Tonscheck looks forward to exploring the world. PHOTO: Contributed.

“I went to Europe in 2012 and can’t wait to do some more travelling and see where my qualifications take me. It’s very exciting,” Ms Tonscheck said.

“When I tell people I’m studying archaeology, they automatically think of Egypt and Rome. That’s what I imagined too at first but there’s also so much to uncover in Australia. My heart really lies with Australian Indigenous history.”

Originally from Highfields near Toowoomba, Ms Tonscheck, 20, credits her early life on the family farm and a high school teacher for inspiring her to pursue archaeology as a career.

“My father was always interested in history and I learnt a lot from him. At high school my Ancient History teacher said you have only one chance at living a great life, so go out there and live it!”

Ms Tonscheck said that although she was non-Indigenous, the work her USQ lecturers were doing in Australia’s Arnhem Land had been truly inspiring.

“USQ’s Professor Bryce Barker and Associate Professor Lara Lamb have done extensive work on the rock art in Arnhem Land at a site called Gabarnmung. They have also worked with Indigenous groups in Papua New Guinea and the Whitsunday Islands.

“What I enjoy most about their research process, is they practice community-based archaeology, where every single one of their research projects has a positive outcome for the local Indigenous community on the land they are working.

“This shows they have a deep understanding of their impact as researchers, truly caring about the Indigenous communities.

“I think it’s really important that Australia’s history is told, and not just the white history, but that of the incredible Indigenous history that surpasses 1788.”

Ms Tonscheck said that at USQ, archaeology undergraduates had the opportunity to volunteer their time to work in laboratories where they sort through excavated material.

“This is a fantastic opportunity which you would not necessarily receive at larger institutions. I find this work to not just be a fantastic learning opportunity but also an incredibly rewarding experience.”

In 2013, Ms Tonscheck was awarded the Don and Barbara Stevens Scholarship, which has a maximum value of $15,000 and is dedicated to the former USQ Chancellor Don Stevens who worked at USQ from 1996 to 2006.

“This scholarship will last the duration of my degree, assuring that I can complete my studies while getting the most out of my university experience,” she said.

“It has opened up so many opportunities and ways for me to become more involved with USQ, through which I have been able to express my immense gratitude for this incredible donation.”

PHOTO: USQ’s Professor Bryce Barker and Associate Professor Lara Lamb have done extensive work on Aboriginal rock art in Arnhem Land.