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SMC Heads-Up: Genomes, Green Growth and Callaghan Innovation

Issue 207 16-22 November


In This Issue
Green Growth

Genomics in NZ

SMC internship

Callaghan launch

New from the SMC

Sciblogs highlights

Research highlights

Policy News

Sci-tech events


Quick Links

SMC Alerts
Briefings
Calendar

Media Registration
More About Us
Contact Us


Green Growth report launched
A new report which lays out a landscape of environmentally conscious business opportunities to boost New Zealand's economy has largely garnered support from science experts.

Titled 'Green Growth: Opportunities for New Zealand', the report from the Pure Advantage group gives a comprehensive analysis of green growth export opportunities for NZ including sustainable agricultural products and services, geothermal energy, biotechnology, and forestry, including second-generation biofuels.

In the domestic economy, opportunities include improvements in building and transport energy efficiency and electricity grid technology.

You can read the full report and executive summary on the Pure Advantage website.

Pure advantage - a group of Kiwi business leaders pushing for a more environmentally sustainable approach to business - commissioned the 'big picture' macroeconomic report, undertaken by University of Auckland Business School and London-based consultancy Vivid Economics.

The authors note that while some steps can be undertaken by the just the private or public sector others with require commitment from both industry and government.

In the political sphere, the report has been welcomed by the major parties, with National, Labour and the Greens backing the recommendations to varying degrees.

The Science Media Centre contacted experts from range of fields for independent comment on the report. Despite a number of specific criticisms from experts, there was widespread support for the report's recommendations.

Prof Shaun Hendy, Industry and Outreach Fellow, Industrial Research Ltd (IRL), comments:

"Greening [primary] industries is important, but more attention could have been paid to opportunities to grow our economy via greener, knowledge-intensive sectors. ...

"We should base green growth on knowledge not nature."

Prof Jacqueline Rowarth, Professor of AgriBusiness at the University of Waikato, comments:

"The main recommendations in the Green Growth report are spot on - increasing research and development (R&D) to the OECD average and high level support for NZ's brand... anything less is economic treason."

You can read further commentary and analysis as well as a round up of media coverage on the Science Media Centre website.
Briefing: Unravelling your genome
Sequencing a human genome in 2001 would have put you back $95 million, but these days it can be done for under $10,000. This week the Science Media Centre explored what this increasingly available technology means for society.

At a Science Media Centre held on Tuesday briefing experts outlined the current state of genomics and personalised medicine in New Zealand and examined the legal and ethical implications of current and future sequencing technologies.

The technology required to sequence your genome - your entire genetic blueprint - is now more accessible than ever. Already companies are offering sequencing services for private citizens. But what can these data tell you - or your insurance provider, the courts or a snooping neighbour - about your health?

Speakers included Dr Tony Lough, Chief Executive of New Zealand Genomics Limited, Assoc Prof Cristin Print, University of Auckland, and Prof Mark Henaghan, University of Otago,

Prof Mark Henaghan said that information interpreted from genomic data, such as risk of developing a particular condition, could be factored into insurance policies in the future:

"There's a real issue here of whether or not insurers should require people to have these [genetic] tests. I don't think they should, but I think if people do have this information insurers should be entitled to take it into account,"

"What we really need in place are some protections to make sure that insurers don't overly bias against people who have had such tests."

Despite potential societal concerns, Assoc Prof Cris Print, highlighted the potential for New Zealand to be leader in genomic research:

"We've got a very diverse population, we have all sorts of different ethnicities in our population, we've got genomic scientists in New Zealand that are quite well connected internationally ... we've got this number eight fencing wire mentality where we make things work."

You view the briefing here and read some of the resulting media coverage here.

Quoted: New Zealand Herald

"I think one thing that is very clear is that the public are not informed, we need a lot of public debate and discussion. For example seeking informed consent from a patient is very difficult at present when you are describing complex genomic disorders.

"The technology is racing along so quickly and there are huge benefits to be had but I think where patients are concerned we need to be cautious and get it right."

Assoc Prof Cristin Print, University of Auckland, on genomics in medicine.

SMC summer internship on offer
The Science Media Centre is looking for a summer intern / volunteer to lend a hand with day-to-day operations of the centre.

The successful candidate will join a fast-paced, savvy editorial team finding unexpected angles on science stories for the media and tracking down experts who can offer an evidence-based steer on breaking news and controversial topics.

You'll need to be:
• a confident, skilled and snappy writer
• interested in science, environment, health, tech, ag and other research-driven topics
• solidly-skilled in website content management; reliable and highly self-motivated
• available to help out in our central Wellington office for a minimum of 15 hours a week in Jan-Feb 2013.
For more information, contact Dacia Herbulock at the Science Media Centre on 04 499 5476. To apply, please send an expression of interest and CV with "SMC summer internship" in the subject line, no later than 3 Dec 2013.

More information about this opportunity can be found here.

On the science radar...
Belly button bacteria, the real Magneto, scar-free robo-surgery, brainwave music, moonbase plans and spending 'dirty money'.
ATI named Callaghan Innovation
The Advance Technology Institute that the government is establishing will be called Callaghan Innovation, in honour of the late Physicist Prof Sir Paul Callaghan.


Speaking at a function at Parliament on Wednesday night, Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce said naming the new Advanced Technology Institute after the late Sir Paul Callaghan was recognition of his passion for commercialising scientific research.

"Sir Paul was one of New Zealand's greatest scientists. He believed that science was not only about great ideas but about getting value from those ideas through innovation and commercialisation. His views reflect the ambition of the ATI and we are grateful to the Callaghan family for allowing us to name the new institute in his honour," Mr Joyce said.

You can read more in a press release here. A round up of media coverage can be found on the Science Media Centre site.


New from the SMC

Briefings:

Unravelling your genome: Experts discuss the technical, medical and ethical issues surrounding recent advances in DNA sequencing.

Experts Respond:

Green growth: Read expert commentary and analysis on the green growth report launched this week by Pure Advantage. A round up of media coverage is also available.

In the news:

Mapping milk origins:
New Kiwi research can identify where milk has come from - bad news for overseas knock-offs.

Callaghan Innovation: The Advance Technology Institute currently being established by the government will be called Callaghan Innovation, in honour of the late Physicist Prof Sir Paul Callaghan.

Reflections on Science:

Lost moa: Freelance geologist David Bressan, blogging for Scientific American, writes about the early investigations into 'giant birds' reported by European settlers in New Zealand.

Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week's posts:

Don't worry Kyoto (National's Only Looking Out For Its Friends) - Gareth Renowden is unimpressed with the current government's lack of commitment to the Kyoto Protocol.
Hot Topic

Pinhole cameras and eclipses - Marcus Wilson sheds some light on the the eclipse and how to view one without burning your retinas to bits.
Physics Stop

The Challenge of Science Challenges - The Great New Zealand Science Project gets a once over from Robert Hickson, who warns that the challenges set forth must be a achievable.
Ariadne

Dear journalists and editors, (again) - Media need to view alternative medicine and treatments, such as iridology, with a critical eye, writes Grant Jacobs.
Code for Life

Research highlights

Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.

A picture paints a thousands words: Health warning labels on cigarette packages that use pictures to show the health consequences of smoking are effective in reaching adult smokers, according to the results of a new study. New research shows which kind of pictures appears to work best among adult smokers in the US, including smokers from disadvantaged groups where smoking rates are highest.
American Journal of Preventative Medicine

Drought overestimated: Drought over the past 60 years may have been overestimated, reports a new study. The findings suggest that drought has been too heavily weighted due to an oversimplified model of drought severity. The model previously used breaks down when considering radiation, humidity and wind speed. To resolve this the authors use more accurate, comprehensive and physically based modelling which shows that there has been little change in drought from 1950 to 2008.
Nature

Killing seizures with a virus: Two new gene therapy techniques show promise for treating epilepsy. One approach stops induced seizures in rodents by over-expressing a potassium ion channel in the brain, while the other uses laser light to activate a protein called halorhodospin in the brains of rodents. Both approaches used lentiviruses to deliver genes to a specific part of the brain to, as one of the authors states: "Effectively cure these animals".
Science Translational Medicine

The leggiest of them all: New research has unveiled more about the biology and habitat of the rare millipede Illacme plenipes (literally meaning "in highest fulfillment of feet") - which can have up to an astounding 750 legs. Not only is this species the leggiest animal known on the planet, it also has surprising anatomical features: body hairs that produce silk, a jagged and scaly translucent exoskeleton, and comparatively massive (given its diminutive size) antennae that are used to feel its way through the dark because it lacks eyes.
ZooKeys

Cricket ears could help humans: The discovery of a previously unidentified hearing organ in the South American bushcrickets' ear could pave the way for technological advancements in bio-inspired acoustic sensors research, including medical imaging and hearing aid development. The cricket's ear is remarkably similar to the mammalian ear due to its three-part structure. Perspective article also available.
Science

Policy updates

Some of the policy highlights from this week:

Having a LAWF: The Land and Water Forum this week published its third and final report on how freshwater management in New Zealand can be improved.

Mussel investment:
The Government is supporting a $26 million initiative that seeks to boost aquaculture by domesticating the New Zealand Greenshell Mussel.


Upcoming sci-tech events

NZ Rocketry Challenge Competition Launch Day - 17 November, Auckland.
Festival for the Future - 16-18 November, Wellington.
NZ Meteorological Society Conference - 19-20 November, Wellington.
PLUG IN - Electric vehicle symposia - 22 November, Auckland; 23, Wellington.
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.

ENDS

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