Day Two

Outline

The day started with tours of both the university campus and the physics building, allowing scholars to get aquainted with what could possibly be their future university.

Malcolm Walter presented his second lecture for ISS in the morning. He extended his first presentation to explain the possibilities of life on mars, the most similar planet to ours, and how and where we could find that life.

After lunch, Jennie Brand-Miller presented her lecture on paleolithic nutrition. She described the changes in the nutrition of humans over the ages, particularly with the dawn of agriculture. She then explained the effect this has had on our health, as this may have been the beginning of diabetes and many other nutritional diseases.

After more tours in the afternoon, some of the scholars visited the Sydney Observatory, while some others attended consulate visits.The Japanese consulate visit was attended by the 10 Japanese scholars, their escort Norimasa, staffie Konrad and 10 Australian scholars. The Indian consulate visit was attended by the 5 Indian scholars, their escort Lakshmi, Indian staffie Nruthya, other staffies Matthew and Dilshan and 5 Australian scholars.

Lectures

Lecture 3: The Search for Life on Marsby Professor Malcolm Walter

It is almost inevitable that there once was and probably still is life on Mars. There is a traffic of meteorites between Earth and Mars, and given the fact that microbes live at depths of up to several thousand metres in the Earth’s crust (the source of some meteorites) microbes are likely to have been transported from one planet to the other. However, far more significant is the possibility of a second origin of life on Mars.

Since the earliest days of missions to Mars in the 1960’s it has been known that liquids flowed on the surface of the planet early in its history. Dry river beds abound in terrains older than 3 Ga. The Viking missions of the 1970’s photographed water frost and more recently spectroscopic observations from orbiters indentified both water and carbon dioxide ice, especially at the poles. In 2008 the Phoenix lander achieved direct analyses of water ice. The evidence is that early in its history Mars was warm and wet, and thus habitable, and that habitable niches have persisted to this day.

To date no life has been detected on Mars. False leads have included Martian meteorite ALH84001 and spectroscopic observations of methane in the atmosphere, now discredited.

Missions planned for the next 20 years, including landing large laboratories and eventually the first two-way mission, to return samples, can now be targeted at the most promising sites. It is reasonable to expect that before the end of this century we will know whether Mars once was, and maybe still is, inhabited.

Lecture 4: Paleolithic nutrition: What did our ancestors eat?by Professor Jennie Brand-Miller

Anthropologists and nutritionists have long recognised that the diet of hunter-gatherers represents a reference standard for modern human nutrition. Some scientists argue that their diet and lifestyle provides the ultimate guide to preventing the diseases of affluence such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Because the hunter-gatherer way of life is now extinct in its purest forms, we must rely on indirect procedures to reconstruct the traditional diet of pre-agricultural humans. Ethnographic “atlases”, for example, comprising studies of hundreds of recent hunter-gatherer populations, have been used as a guide to the pattern of intake of plant foods versus animal foods. Armed with knowledge of the nutrient composition of indigenous or wild foods, we can estimate the intake of proteins, fats and carbohydrates and of micronutrients such as iron and calcium.

These analyses indicate that whenever and wherever it was ecologically possible, hunter-gatherers consumed high amounts (45–65% of energy) of animal food. Indeed, the majority of hunter-gatherer societies derived at least 50% of their subsistence from animal foods, whereas only a small fraction derived a large proportion from gathered plant foods. Unlike today, the seeds of the cultivated grasses (cereals) did not play a major role in hunter-gatherer diets.

There is growing awareness that the profound changes in diet and lifestyle that began with the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry 10,000 years ago occurred too recently in an evolutionary sense for the human genome to adjust. The evolutionary ‘collision’ of our ancient genome with the nutritional qualities of recently introduced foods (cereals, dairy products, refined sugars and oils) may underlie many of the diseases of Western civilization. In particular, food staples and food-processing procedures developed during the agricultural and industrial revolutions have fundamentally altered many nutritional characteristics.

While adopting a Paleolithic diet may be no longer possible or practical, there are fundamental properties that can easily be accommodated in today’s diets.

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