News

Winners in the Australian Innovation Challenge


13 December 2011

Rick Shine
Rick Shine

University of Sydney scientists have won Australian Innovation Challenge awards for their research - Professor Rick Shine, from the School of Biological Sciences, has won the Environment award.

Professor Shine received his $5 000 prize at an awards ceremony in Brisbane on 7 December 2011.

The awards are run by The Australian newspaper in association with Shell, with the support of the federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, and recognise the best ideas and inventions in Australia.

Attracting more than 300 entries from across Australia in 2011 in its first year, the awards will become an annual event. Winners were chosen in seven professional categories and one backyard innovation category, with each professional category winner receiving a $5 000 prize and the backyard innovation winner receiving a $10 000 prize.

Professor Rick Shine won the Environment award for his research into innovative ways of reducing cane toad, Bufo marinus, populations by using pheromones from the toads themselves on cane toad eggs and tadpoles.

“Invasive cane toads are an environmental catastrophe for native Australian species. The toads already occupy one-third of the Australian continent, and are spreading faster and faster. It's clear we need effective ways to control the cane toads,” said Professor Shine.

“My research group - Team Bufo - has shown that cane toad tadpoles communicate with each other using specific chemicals to warn their relatives of danger, and to locate and destroy competitors from newly-laid clutches of their own species. It also turns out that native Australian frogs don't use these pheromones to communicate.”

“Our innovation is to exploit these pheromone signals to control cane toad numbers. For example, we've found that continued exposure to the toad 'alarm pheromone' kills toad tadpoles, by stressing them; short-term exposure of toad eggs to the 'suppression pheromone' kills tadpoles that hatch from those eggs, and miniaturises the survivors; and the 'attractant pheromone' can be used to lure toad tadpoles into traps,” explained Professor Shine.

As the tadpoles of native frogs are not affected by these pheromones, the cane toad chemical signals can be used to target invasive toads with no collateral damage to native species.

“Learning how to speak the cane toads' language is a breakthrough in identifying new weapons for toad control and means we can turn the cane toads' biology against themselves.”

Read about the University of Sydney winners and finalists, plus all the other finalists in The Australian Innovation Challenge at:http://www.theaustralian.com.au/innovationchallenge