Issue 489, 14 Sep 2018


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Expert Reaction: BPA replacements show hormone-mimicking issues in mice​

In The News: Alpine Fault featured in special issue

New from the SMC global network

BPA alternatives questioned

Replacements for BPA in plastics might cause similar reproductive problems in lab mice as the original ingredient does.

Bisphenol A (BPA) has been largely phased out of consumer products after a discovery 20 years ago that the ingredient had leached out of plastic cages used to house female mice in a laboratory, leading to a sudden increase in chromosomally-abnormal eggs in the animals.

But now the same research team that made that accidental discovery have found alternate bisphenols used to replace BPA in bottles, cups and other items may cause similar endocrine-disrupting problems in mice.

Their study, published today in Current Biology, called for more work to determine whether some bisphenols might be safer than others.

University of Auckland's Professor James Wright - director of the Centre for Green Chemical Science - said heat, microwaving, dishwasing and UV light contributed to breaking down polymers and releasing molecular BPA.

"A number of replacements for BPA have been developed. However, the safety and toxicity of these have been much less studied than it has for BPA. Just because a plastic is ‘BPA free’, it does not necessarily mean the replacement used is less toxic. Most likely the toxicity of the replacement has not been intensely studied."

University of Canterbury's Associate Professor Sally Gaw told Breakfast that BPA had originally been considered great for making rigid, clear plastic for items such as babies' bottles. But research had found BPA was turning up in people's urine, blood and amniotic fluid and there was evidence it was "found to interact with the body to sort of trigger a whole lot of hormonal pathways".

She said partly due to consumer backlash, BPA was withdrawn but had been replaced by a molecule "that looks very very similar". But due to those similarities, "it turns out unsurprisingly they interact with the body in a very similar way to BPA".

"I think we do need to consider all of our uses around plastic and the kind of exposures that we have," she said.

Scion's Lou Sherman - technical and service leader in the biopolymers and chemicals team - said it was important to note that not all plastics contain these BPA alternatives, Stuff reported

"In general, plastics that are marked with the recycling codes 1 (PET, soft drink bottles), 2 (HDPE, milk bottles), 4 (LDPE, plastic bags), 5 (polypropylene), and 6 (polystyrene) are very unlikely to contain BPA or its alternatives."

"It is also important to note that even if a material does contain BPA or these alternatives, they will only pose a risk if they migrate from the packaging into the food at harmful levels."

The SMC gathered expert comments on the paper.

Quoted: Radio NZ

"Protecting our birds and other creatures from these introduced mammals is a hard, hard job and we cannot let it go or else we'll lose what's very special to this country."

Former Parliamentary Commissoner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright on the use of 1080 for pest control in New Zealand.

Alpine fault: special issue

The 300-year anniversary of the last time the Alpine Fault ruptured has been marked with a special issue of the New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics.

Scheduled to be published last year - 300 years after the 1717 earthquake, the special issue was delayed by the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, with research following the quake included in the special issue.

GNS Science’s Phaedra Upton, the chief guest editor of the special issue, said the Alpine Fault had a well-documented history of large earthquakes at fairly regular intervals, which meant there would be another one in the future. “Whatever we can learn about this fault and how it moves will help us understand and prepare for the next great earthquake.”

The 1717 rupture moved the Alpine Fault by about eight metres, so a similar quake could reshape the South Island, Newshub reported

The series suggested a large event could strand about 10,000 people living in affected areas, along with several thousand tourists, the NZ Herald reported.

One of the featured studies, led by Tom Robinson from the UK's Durham University, suggested the number of tourists requiring evacuation by sea and air would be five times that of the 7.8 Kaikoura Earthquake in 2016, which was used as a guide in the modelling.

Upcoming SAVVY workshops

The Science Media Centre has several workshops coming up in October and November.

In October, our half-day video workshops will visit Christchurch and Dunedin. Produced in collaboration with Baz Caitcheon, the workshops focus on giving scientists the tools and skills to communicate their research in short videos aimed at an online audience.

The workshops are free to attend, but limited to 15 places. This is a competitive application process – the best applicants will be selected based on the video concepts outlined in the application form.


November SAVVY in Wellington

Our flagship media training course returns to Wellington for our fourth and final two-day Science Media SAVVY for the year.

Our experienced facilitators provide a supportive environment for researchers to consider their work from different perspectives and find new ways to describe the value of their research to the public. 

Ideally suited for researchers with previous media experience seeking further development of their skills, as well as beginners anticipating media interest in their work. 


Policy news & developments

Research grant recipients: $249m will be invested in 69 research projects through the 2018 round of the contestable Endeavour Fund. 

Freshwater fish bill: A bill to better protect indigenous freshwater fish passed its first reading in Parliament this week.

Electricity price review: A discussion document for the first stage of the Electricity Price Review has been released, as the review enters its second stage. 

Moths to combat plant: The EPA has approved an application that will allow two moths native to Europe to be imported to help combat horehound - a flowering weed from the mint family that damages farmers' crops.

Agricultural emissions: Former PM's chief science advisor's Sir Peter Gluckman's latest report aims to present a high-level perspective on what would be needed to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and greater offsets, in the agricultural sector.

Digital fisheries monitoring: Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash has confirmed the next stage of digital monitoring across the wider commercial fishing fleet will begin in January 2019.

Stink bug monitoring: MPI has promised to take tough action against cargo vessels believed to be infested with brown marmorated stink bug during the upcoming risk season.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Women in sports: double standards a double fault
Marilyn Giroux, Jessica Vredenburg, Auckland University of Technology

Ivor Montagu: Communist aristocrat, Soviet spy and activist filmmaker
Russell Campbell, Victoria University of Wellington

See more NZ-authored Conversation articles.

What we've been reading

With an abundance of news stories to possibly read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.

The reality of life on the minimum wage in NZ
Ahead of the 125th anniversary of women's suffrage in New Zealand, RNZ launches the short documentary project Minimum, in which Kiwi women working for minimum wage tell filmmaker Kathleen Winter their stories. 

Deep space
By night, a menagerie of species rises to the surface of the ocean — rarely glimpsed, and uncovered in stunning photos in this New Zealand Geographic piece by Kennedy Warne. 

Race-baiting in the mainstream media and being ‘acceptably’ Māori
In this conversation-style piece for The Spinoff, Ātea editor Leonie Hayden and Newsroom’s Emma Espiner sit down to talk race-baiting in mainstream media and why they’re not wiling to be the go-to Māori voice in mainstream media.

Precious rock New Zealand is accused of stealing from the Sahara
In part one of a four-part series, Stuff national correspondent Charlie Mitchell looks at New Zealand's addiction to fertiliser, mapping its journey from the Western Sahara, where it's at the centre of an ugly refugee crisis, to our shores. 

Women's work - 1891 v today
NZ Herald data journalist Chris Knox analyses the 1891 census to see what jobs women did during the suffrage movement and how things had changed by 2013. 

Inside the 'shadowy world' of China's fake science research black market
In China, there's a growing black market peddling fake research papers, fake peer reviews, and even entirely fake research results to anyone who will pay, writes Natasha Mitchell for ABC News.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
An open letter to Rethink Fluoride

Dr Alison Campbell responds to an anti-flouride group, after they targeted her with multiple questions on social media then blocked her from responding. 
More and More, New Drugs Clear the FDA With ‘Accelerated Approval

When it comes to approval for new drugs, speed and certainty are fundamentally at odds. This piece explores how the FDA is increasingly proactive in bringing drugs to market, short of full approval.
Guest Work
Not-so-sweet advice

Why did a briefing on sugar taxes omit a recently-commissioned report?
The Dismal Science
Flu plane: are we really ready for a global pandemic?

British law lecturer Mark Eccleston-Turner says demand for vaccines would outstrip supply in a global flu pandemic.
Guest Work

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Auckland's lava caves: 14 September - 1 October, Auckland. Into the Underworld / Ngā Mahi Rarowhenua is a digital art exhibition following three years of 3D mapping ancient lava caves under the streets of Auckland.
  • Inside-out sharks: 15 and 16 September, Dunedin. The NZ Marine Studies Centre are offering two shark events - the first exploring the anatomy of a small shark, and the second a scientific dissection of a 2.5m Sevengill Shark. 
  • Smartphones for health inequity: 17 September, Auckland. Visiting US Professor Sriram Iyengar presents his research around the use of smartphones to alleviate health inequities.
  • Bullying in the medical workforce: 18 September, Wellington. Charlotte Chambers from the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists discusses findings on the prevalence of bullying among senior doctors and dentists working in New Zealand’s public health system.
  • Sex, gender and power: 18 September, Auckland. Professor Jennifer Curtin's inaugural lecture traces how gendered rules and norms underpinning political power have worked to exclude women.
  • Dirty politics, dirty policing? 18 September, Christchurch. Nicky Hager presents a lecture on his publication of Dirty Politics, and police actions to try to discover his confidential sources.
  • This kidney went to market: 18 September, Auckland. Visiting US Professor Susan Lederer explores the history of paying for 'body merchandise' and fears sparked by 'trafficking in human bodies.
  • Suffrage 125: 19 September, Wellington. Te Papa's head of New Zealand and Pacific Cultures Dr Bronwyn Labrum and curator Katie Cooper introduce the latest publication from Te Papa Press and a new exhibition commemorating Suffrage 125.
  • Ornamantal to detrimental: 19 September, Dunedin. Professor Philip Hulme explores the history of plant invasions in New Zealand and examine the underlying causes and potential future trends.

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