SMC Heads-Up: The foods we don't need, shocking infections, MacDiarmid goes commercial
Issue 170 - February 24 - March 1
In This Issue
New from the SMC
targets obese patients
When it comes to healthy food, consumers are often at the mercy of misleading dietary claims from manufacturers. Now researchers have cut through the confusion with a no-nonsense list of foods that overweight and obese people can avoid without compromising nutrition.
Researchers from the University of Otago, Christchurch, have published in the New Zealand Medical Journal a list of 49 foods that they describe as NEEDNT (non-essential, energy dense nutritionally deficient) foods.
The list is targeted at health professionals working with obese patients in a clinical setting, as tool to help individuals identify NEEDNT foods and healthy alternatives.
Although the list was not aimed at the general public, but health professionals working with obese patients, the nutritional information is relevant to any normal diet.
A Science Media Centre media briefing with the authors of the list added context for journalists.
Lead author Dr Jane Elmslie explained, "What we wanted to do was simplify the information, clarify which foods contain empty calories. Because you still have to eat and its very important that what you eat contains essential nutrients. We wanted to encourage healthy eating."
The utility of the list in a healthcare setting is a research focus for the authors, who have trialled its use with a group of overweight research participants, as well as seeking feedback from dieticians and medical students.
"We can seen that for both health professionals and people with obesity wanting to lose weight, the list can be a useful tool". Dr Ria Schroder said in the briefing, "We're really excited to finally have the list published in a medical journal."
You can read more information and listen to the briefing here. A round up of the extensive media coverage can be found here.
Meanwhile, the Science Media Centre has released a new infographic giving a snapshot of our weight problem in New Zealand. The infographic can be downloaded from our website and is free to use as long as the SMC is credited. Contact the SMC for a .eps high-resolution version.
A 'little horny man', synthetic meat rehashed, World of Warcraft boosts brain function, thirsty Mayans, neutrinos back in the spotlight and gecko tape.
Neutrino scientists: wait a second...
Physicists stunned the scientific world in September when they revealed the methodically checked details of an experiment that saw neutrinos - subatomic particles, travel faster than the speed of light.
The media seized on the fact that were the results confirmed, they would turn Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity on its head and open up new possibilities to explore about the nature of time and dimensions in space.
Well, the scientists have done some further checks and discovered some of the equipment used in the experiment was glitchy. A bad connection on a fibre optic cable may have thrown out the timing. This may be the reason that the neutrinos shot from CERN's facility in Gran Sasso, Italy, ended up at the OPERA facility hundreds of kilometres away 60.7 billionths of a second faster that they would have had they travelled at the speed of light.
Alas, Enstein's theory looks to be safe, at least until more extensive testing and repetition of the experiments proves otherwise. Speaking to the UK Science Media Centre, Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of Physics at the University of Surrey, who had promised to eat his boxer shorts on national TV if the results were confirmed said:
"The OPERA scientists are showing great integrity in announcing these potential faults in their measurements, so let's wait and see. But I suspect, now more than ever, that both Einstein's theory and my boxer shorts are safe."
More reaction from UK-based scientists can be read here.
MacDiarmid's commercial push begins
Technology developed at the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology will be prepared for the commercial world through a new link-up with
Wellington-based incubator Creative HQ.
The aim of the partnership is to "spawn a host of new Magriteks", a reference to the success of the company founded by Victoria University's Sir Paul Callaghan. Sir Paul was also the founding director of the Macdiarmid Institute and has become a vocal advocate for the commercialisation of science and technology to transform the New Zealand economy.
MacDiarmid and Creative HQ will attempt to commercialise intellectual property and products that result from the work of MacDiarmid researchers who span five universities and two Crown research institutes.
Infectious diseases highlight
In most developed countries, the incidence of infectious disease is decreasing and giving way to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer. But new research shows that New Zealand is an exception to the rule.
An extensive analysis of New Zealand hospital records has found that admissions for serious infectious diseases increased 51 per cent in the last two decades.
The research, published in the leading international medical journal Lancet and undertaken by the University of Otago, Wellington, also shows that Maori, Pacific Islanders and those in lower socioeconomic groups are disproportionately represented in hospital admissions for infectious diseases.
The results came as a surprise to lead research Dr Michael Baker, who said in a media release, "What we expected to see was a steady decline in serious infectious diseases and a rise in admissions for chronic diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, which is the expected pattern for a developed country."
Dr Nikki Turner, Immunisation Advisory Centre Director, told the SMC, "NZ has many people living in poverty and it makes our people sick, more so with Maori and Pacific communities. There are economic, social and medical interventions that can and should be considered to address this problem and as a society we need to address this urgently".
Read further commentary and media coverage on the SMC website.
Quoted: Science Media Centre
"There is something
very wrong in NZ with such a stark and growing inequity
--Dr Nikki Turner, Immunisation Advisory Centre Director, on the rise of infectious diseases.
New from the SMC
Infectious inequalities: Kiwi experts respond to the The publication of hospital data showing a dramatic rise in infectious disease admissions, particularity among Maori, Pacific Islanders and those in lower socioeconomic groups. See media coverage also.
NEEDNT Food: The experts behind the list of non-essential, energy-dense, nutritionally deficient (NEEDNT) foods joined the SMC for a briefing about the development of the list and it applications.
In the News:
Nationwide interest in NEEDNT list: The publication of list of non-essential, energy-dense, nutritionally deficient (NEEDNT) foods, has received blanket media coverage across New Zealand, highlighting how important food and diet are to a public increasingly aware of the rising rates of obesity.
Some of the highlights from this week's
The Vikings changed culture as well as institutions - Peter Kerr examines the Danish way of doing things in the science and innovation sector.
Excavations at First Mission Station
and Prehistoric Garden Island - Archeology is
all about getting your hands dirty. Brigid Gallagher looks
at a two proving grounds for young
Digging the dirt
Review of 'The Very Hungry
Caterpillar' - Peter Dearden critiques a
literary classic, finding "a cracking read, a real
page-turner, an embodiment of all that can be achieved with
the modern treatment of insect
Educating People does not equal a
'Nanny State'- Providing information on healthy
eating isn't the same as banning food, decries Michael
Edmonds following some skewed coverage of the NEEDNT food
TV: New Super High-definition
Standards- Just as we were getting used to
1080p HD television, a new standard arises. The novel 4k
standard boasts some 4,000 vertical lines and could be
coming to a wall near you, reports John Nixon.
Light my fibre
Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.
Biggest and best win at RWC:
Rugby teams with the tallest backs, heaviest forwards and
greatest amount of collective experience are likely to be
the most successful at World Cup level, according to a study
of all players in Rugby World Cup matches between 1987 and
2007. Simple factors such as mass and height were
discriminatory in the rugby "arms race" and teams with
heavier forwards and taller backs perform better than
others, and winning sides were those with greater collective
smoking": NZ research shows that extending the
smoking ban outside bars could help curb "social smoking"
because this goes hand in hand with drinking. While the
prevalence of smoking has dropped, social smoking - smoking
intermittently or only in given situations - has increased
among young adults. "Introducing smoke-free outdoors bars
... would eliminate the current intersection between
smoke-free and smoking spaces and create a physical barrier
that, for some, would make accessing the smoking zone too
difficult," they said.
King Penguins recover
from NZ cull: King penguins - almost wiped out on
Macquarie Island in the sub-Antarctic by a Dunedin-based
businessman, Joseph Hatch - have recovered much of their
genetic diversity, Australian scientists say. Helped by GNS
Science radiocarbon dating, the researchers showed the
population had recovered from the brink of extinction to
previous levels of genetic diversity. Hatch, a former
Invercargill mayor and MP, drove two million penguins of
four species alive into digesters to be boiled down for
their oil in the late 1800's.
bite: Novel mouth bacteria just recognised in a new
study by Swiss scientists may cause serious disease if they
enter the bloodstream through sites such as bleeding gums.
The "new" Streptococcus tigurinus was isolated from
blood of patients suffering from endocarditis, meningitis
and spondylodiscitis (inflammation of the spine), and
closely resembles other Streptococcus strains that colonise
Int. Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology
horses beat the heat: The earliest horses were
closer in size to a housecat than to the modern-day animals
we're familiar with, according to a study of fossil horse
teeth from Wyoming. The authors determined that the early
horse Sifrhippus sandrae initially had a body size of about
5.6 kilograms but then shrank by approximately 30 percent as
the climate warmed about 55 million years ago, then grew by
more than 75 percent at the as the climate cooled later
cooled Further analysis of diet supports the theory that
temperature, and not productivity or food availability, was
the primary driver behind the evolution of body size.
crossover: A strain of the potentially deadly
antibiotic-resistant bacterium known as MRSA has jumped from
livestock to humans. A strain of methicillin-resistant
Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that humans contract from
livestock was originally a human strain, but it developed
resistance to antibiotics once it was picked up by farm
animals. The findings show a very close link between
antibiotic use on-farm and potentially lethal human
Upcoming sci-tech events
• Origin of our species,
Neanderthals and the Early Human Occupation of Britain and
Europe - Lecture by Prof Chris Stringer
(UK) - 24 February, Dunedin; 25, Wellington.
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.