Issue 491, 28 Sep 2018


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Expert Reaction: Mozzies knocked out with gene drive​

Reflections on Science: 
‘I would be happy to drink the water downstream of the 1080 drop’ – Belinda Cridge​

Expert Reaction:  Cryptocurrencies here to stay

New from the SMC global network

Get on board with blockchain

New Zealand should get on board with blockchain, including cryptocurrency, according to a report funded by the Law Foundation.

University of Auckland's Associate Professor Alex Sims, who led the research, says New Zealand has "fallen behind countries we like to compare ourselves with, including Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan".

"So now we need to live up to our reputation as nimble, agile and innovative and rapidly follow the lead of those other countries. That’s the only way we can maximise the opportunities that blockchain offers," she said.

University of Otago senior lecturer Dr John Williams welcomed the report and its level of technical detail, "which is so often lacking at the policy level".

"There are so many lies and half-truths in the public sphere that the only way to sort out the hype from the truth is to understand the technical details as well as valid arguments from both sides of the debate."

University of Canterbury's Associate Professor Stephen Wingreen said New Zealand's regulatory agencies "seem to have adopted an unnecessarily cautious position with regard to cryptocurrencies". 

"The field of cryptocurrency is moving so quickly that New Zealand risks being left behind in what may become the greatest and most transformative technological innovation since the internet, unless the regulatory agencies quickly create a friendly, open, and efficient framework to support New Zealand-based cryptocurrencies."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the report.

Quoted: Science

"If you're working with your own community, you're less likely to back out when you hit a wall. And you're going to hit walls."

University of Otago graduate student Anežka Hoskin, in a feature on indigenous scientists and genomics.

Mozzie gene drive wipeout

UK researchers say they’ve successfully used a CRISPR-based gene drive to cause the collapse of a population of caged malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

The study, published in Nature Biotechnology, targeted a gene that determines whether an individual mosquito develops as a male or a female. Previous attempts have been thwarted by the mosquitoes developing resistance to the gene drive, but the researchers say this didn’t happen and within eight generations no females were being produced and the population collapsed.

Professor Neil Gemmell at the University of Otago told Newshub that experiments such as this "look very promising as a tool that could potentially control one of the most devastating diseases that we know of".

In a joint comment, Prof Gemmell and Genomics Aotearoa's Professor Peter Dearden said the particular method the University College London researchers used helped overcome the problem of developing resistance.

"By targeting a gene involved in specifying the sex of mosquitos, they have ensured that when resistance arises it leads to female infertility, and is selected against.

“The gene drive has little to no effect in males, meaning that while females are sterile, the males keep spreading the gene drive mechanism, leading to more infertile females and finally population collapse."

Because the target gene was present in most insects, the approach has been proposed for wasp control in New Zealand.

However, Profs Gemmell and Dearden caution that the timeframe of 5-8 years to test such a mosquito gene drive in the wild indicates that any such system for pest control in New Zealand would take a long time without significant investment.

"Currently there is some disquiet about such work, and we need to continue to pursue such research in contained labs to understand the risks and benefits if we are to ever be in a position to trial such tools for the control of our pests, whether it is wasps, rats, or something new that threatens our economy or health."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the study.

180 seconds of discovery

Early career researchers have stepped up to the challenge of telling the story of the research in just three minutes.

The 180 Seconds of Discovery competition challenged postgraduate students and early career researchers to create a three-minute video communicating the research they're passionate about.

The Future Leader Award, worth $3,000, went to Seer Ikurior for his video Wormy Lambs: Using Sensing Technologies to Make Targeted Treatments.

And the $1,000 People's Choice prize was taken out by Suranga Nanayakkara with his video FingerReader: Enabling People with Visual Impairments to Access Information on the Go.

Reckon you could have a shot next time around? Brush up your video shooting and editing skills with one of our free, half-day video workshops heading to Christchurch and Dunedin in October.

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, 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.


Wellington SAVVY in November

The Science Media Centre's acclaimed two-day workshop returns to Wellington in November.

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

Review into cattle deaths: DOC is having its post operation investigation of the Mapara aerial 1080 operation independently reviewed following the deaths of two cattle.

Visitor levy: Cabinet has approved a new International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy of $35 per visitor, with legislation due to be passed around the middle of next year.

Information sharing: The Government is seeking feedback on a proposal which would allow the one-way flow of information from the IRD to be extended to the Serious Fraud Office and Customs.

New drug smuggling powers: The Maritime Powers Extension Bill is designed to help Customs disrupt the supply of drugs to New Zealand and inhibit drug-smuggling in international waters.

Teachers reject offer: The union for primary and secondary school teachers and principals rejected the Ministry of Education's revised pay offer.

MP pay: A Bill that will put a freeze on salaries and allowances while the Government develops a fairer formula for future pay increases has been passed into law.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Why malnutrition is an issue for more than half of patients in intensive care
Lynsey Sutton, Victoria University of Wellington, Rebecca Jarden, University of Melbourne

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.

Nitrous oxide no laughing matter
In a featured funded thanks to the Aotearoa New Zealand Science Journalism Fund, Newsroom's Eloise Gibson talks to the scientists and farmers who are leading efforts keep nitrogen in the ground and out of the atmosphere.

Drug Free Sport NZ's testing regime ineffective in fight against doping
Almost every athlete Drug Free Sport NZ is catching - and banning - is not trying to cheat, Stuff national correspondent Dana Johannsen writes. 

A few desperate Kiwis shop for new organs
With a waiting list of more than 550, a few Kiwis are partaking in transplant tourism, Laura Walters writes for Newsroom.

Listen to the World
From the rumble of Kilaeua to the winds in Utah - this incredible interactive from the New York Times Magazine brings 11 locations around the world with audio soundtracks, posing the question: What if we chose where to travel based on sound?

Dr Death 
We’re at our most vulnerable when we go to our doctors. This podcast from Wondery follows stories from patients who were harmed - sometimes fatally - by a neurosurgeon who should have never been allowed near a scalpel.

The People Who Could Have Done Science, Didn't
The people who could have solved the math problem or designed the experiments, or developed the theory didn't, because they were women and they were told, at every stage, that they weren’t good enough, Kate Marvel writes for the Scientific American.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
A foil to the populist scourge: towards a Science Commission for New Zealand?

Grant Jacobs offers further thoughts on what a Science Commission might look like.
Code for Life
Sucking up Spaghetti

Why is it that the vacuum cleaner can suck up a button no problem, but broken strands of uncooked spaghetti cause a problem? Marcus Wilson reckons there's a science fair project there.
Physics Stop
We take the plunge…

Donal Curtin's household takes the plunge and changes electricity providers. Why don't more consumers do the same?
The Dismal Science
Making tobacco less available is both necessary and feasible – New NZ study

A proposal to decrease the number of retail outlets selling tobacco products could halve the number of such outlets by 2032.
Public Health Expert

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Kidney markets: 1 October, Dunedin. Visiting Professor Susan Lederer explores the history of paying for “body merchandise” and fears sparked by organ trafficking in human bodies.
  • When mutations argue: 1 October, Auckland. Professor Tim Cooper’s lab discusses experimental evolution - the lab based study of evolutionary processes - and interactions between gene mutations.
  • Wrongful convictions: 2 October, Dunedin. Dr Bridget Irvine, coordinator for Innocence Project New Zealand, will explain why miscarriages of justice occur in NZ, describe the current legal pathways for correcting these errors, and "reimagine" the legal solutions.
  • Gravitational astronomy: 2 October, Auckland. In this lecture Dr Paul Groot will review progress in the field and explore the how new and improved detectors will change our understanding of the violent Universe.
  • Creating knowledge: 2 October, Christchurch. Canterbury Vice-Chancellor Dr Rod Carr shares his view of the trajectory of higher education in the mid 21st century. 
  • The academic clinician: 2 October, Dunedin. In his inaugural lecture, consultant endocrinologist and Medical Professor Patrick Manning examine whether the academic clinician is an oxymoron or reality.
  • Women together: 3 October, Wellington. Dr Anne Else discusses how we can ensure our inconvenient history of feminism will not once again disappear until it is rediscovered by another wave of activists.
  • NZ as a Pacific Nation: 3 October, Auckland. Associate Professor Damon Salesa, talks about moving past tropes of inclusion and superdiversity and embracing our identity in the Pacific.
  • Framing Frankenstein: 4 October, Dunedin. Visiting Professor Susan Lederer considers how the Frankenstein framework has infused both medical and popular discussions since the late 19th century. 
  • Code a robot: 4 October, Wellington. This interactive workshop on Thursday morning and afternoon will get the whole family teaching robots dance moves at Te Papa. 

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