The CSIRO's promise to step up research into dragons after a seven-year-old girl wrote to the organisation has captured the nation's attention, and inspired the youngster to become a scientist.
Sophie Lester, from Queensland, sent a letter to Australia's national science agency before Christmas asking for a dragon, which she said she would name Toothless (after the ''Night Fury'' in the animated film How To Train your Dragon) if a girl and Stuart if a boy.
The peak agency's response - and the media attention - has amazed the girl's mother, Melissah Lester. ''I've heard of someone in New York reading it, and they were sending it around to their friend,'' Mrs Lester said. ''The grandparents just can't believe how fast things get around.''
A picture from Sophie Lester's letter to the CSIRO. Photo: CSIRO website
The Brisbane mother said the family had a dog and was getting some chooks, but their creative-thinking daughter was after a more unique Christmas present.
''Would it be possible if you can make a dragon for me. I would like it if you could but if you can't that's fine,'' Sophie wrote.
''I would keep it in my special green grass area where there are lots of space. I would feed it raw fish and I would put a collar on it. If it got hurt I would bandage it if it hurt himself.''
Mrs Lester said Sophie's father had told her they could not get one, but suggested writing to see if someone else could. ''And she said, 'What about a scientist?'''
Mrs Lester said she had hoped they would write back and say it cannot be done, but in a tongue-in-cheek statement released on Monday, the CSIRO apologised to the nation for its lack of a dragon research program.
''Over the past 87 odd years we have not been able to create a dragon or dragon eggs … our work has never ventured into dragons of the mythical, fire-breathing variety,'' the CSIRO said in the statement. ''And for this Australia, we are sorry.''
The country's primary research body said there could be many practical uses for dragons. ''How much energy could [a dragon] produce? Would dragon fuel be a low-emissions option?'' they wrote.
Mrs Lester said Sophie was overjoyed with the CSIRO's response and has been telling everyone dragon breath can be a new fuel.
''All her friends are now saying they want to be a scientist and Sophie says she now wants to work in the CSIRO. She's saying Australian scientists can do anything,'' she said.