SMC Heads-Up: Sheep genome, fracking report and high-level science on the horizon
Issue 282 6-12 June 2014
Sheep genome spins a good yarn
The mapping of the whole genome of the humble sheep will open up new avenues of research for improving the health and quality of New Zealand's most populous farm animal.
An international team of researchers, including scientists from the University of Otago andAgResearch, have sequenced the sheep genome, mapping out the DNA code that the is blueprint for making a sheep.
The publication of the work today in the journal Science is the culmination of a seven year project for the team, which is part of theInternational Sheep Genomics Consortium, involving 26 institutions across eight countries.
By comparing its genetic underpinnings to those of other mammals, the researchers identified genes that may explain the sheep's specialised digestive system and the sheep's unique fat metabolism process, which helps maintain its thick, woolly coat.
Because sheep are an important agricultural species (there are over 30 million in New Zealand), the results of this effort will provide crucial resources for future research on this animal.
AgResearch Principal Scientist John McEwan, one of the paper's authors, says New Zealand scientists have been using the information from the project for the last six to seven years as it has been generated.
"It has allowed us to do a whole lot of things that were previously impossible... we have implemented genomic selection in sheep, and New Zealand has been world-leading in this regard. It has also meant that the pace of discovery of gene variants affecting production and disease traits has advanced much more rapidly internationally."
You can read a round up of sheep genome related news coverage on the Science Media Centre website.
On the science radar this week...
Fracking regulations not adequate - PCE
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is calling on the government to put in place better regulations managing the environmental risks of oil and gas drilling - before it is too late.
In a new report launched this week the Commissioner, Dr Jan Wright, said New Zealand needed to be ready to cope with the rapid expansion of oil and gas extraction, as has happened overseas. In some parts of the United States and Australia, this has led to oil and gas wells multiplying so rapidly that regulators have found themselves "scrambling to catch up".
"I made a commitment to evaluating whether government oversight and regulation of oil and gas production in New Zealand is adequate for managing the environmental risks of the industry," Dr Wright states in the report. "Even without the potential for rapid growth I have not found it to be adequate."
The Commissioner has made six recommendations in the report. Briefly summarised, they are:
• Develop a national policy statement oil and gas production.
• Revise regional council plans
• Ensure wells are designed to minimise leak risk
• Create stronger processes around liability and monitoring
• Enforce regulations for on-site hazardous substances
• Review the disposal of waste from wells
The SMC collected expert commentary on the report.
Dr David McNamara, Structural Geologist, Natural resources Division, GNS Science, commented:
"The report is thorough, touches on many important issues regarding the potential expansion of the oil and gas industry in New Zealand, and makes excellent suggestions for how carefully crafted, appropriate regulations can be put into place both nationally and locally. The report's six recommendations are clear and concise and represent significant improvements to the way industry activities are currently regulated."
Quoted: Radio New Zealand
"Screening needs to be set up and progressed, not just talked about. What we've heard is a talkfest around this for 16 years.''
"...We can talk about it for another 16 years, and have another 16 years of deaths that are unnecessary."
Christchurch colorectal surgeon Frank Frizelle on bowel cancer screening
August will be a huge month for science
Clear your news diary for the last week of August, with an unprecedented number of high-level meetings taking place in Auckland that will attract visitors from all over the world.Chief among the gatherings is the first-ever meeting ofinternational science advisors, which will take place in Auckland28-29 August 2014 and be hosted by Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister.
Chief Science Advisors from the UK, Australia, the European Union and numerous other countries will discuss approaches to delivering science advice to government, science in times of crisis, science in the context of opposing ideological and political positions and many other issues.
A related symposium will look at the role of science in diplomacyand touch on issues including trade and aid.
Journalists are invited to attend the conferences and can register here. Contact Marian McCay at the PMCSA's office for more information.
Antarctic Research focus
Antarctic Research focusFrom August 23rd, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Researchwill meet in Auckland, bringing together top researchers from around the world looking at the state of Antarctica - from its climate and wildlife, to the health of its ice sheets and surrounding seas. Check out the SCAR website for more information.
meet The presence
of so many senior scientists, advisors and policy experts in
Auckland is unprecedented and will generate many interesting
news angles. Contact the SMC if you would like some help
navigating the numerous events and people that will be
accessible during that week.
Science Councils meetCapping off a hectic schedule is the General Assembly of ICSU - the International Council of Scientific Unions, which will feature attendees representing scientific societies and unions from all over the world - and hosted by the Royal Society of New Zealand. The Science Media Centre will also welcome colleagues from our sister SMCs around the world including Fiona Fox from the UK and Susannah Elliot from Australia, as we meet in Auckland to discuss future expansion of the network. We will also be on hand throughout the CSA conference.
The presence of so many senior scientists, advisors and policy experts in Auckland is unprecedented and will generate many interesting news angles. Contact the SMC if you would like some help navigating the numerous events and people that will be accessible during that week.
Strength to strength with Media SAVVY
Applications are open for our Science Media SAVVY courses in Auckland and Hamilton.
Check out the details here, including a detailed course breakdown and opportunities for PhD students to apply for scholarships to attend the comprehensive two-day workshop
The Friday video...
Policy news and developments
Raw milk:The Ministry for Primary Industries is asking for public feedback on options for the sale of raw milk to consumers.
Whey inquiry: The Chair of the inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate Contamination Incident has advised the government the inquiry will conclude in November.
EPA SoI: The Environmental Protection Authority has published its Statement of Intent covering the period 2014-2018.
Blunt force: MPI has confirmed the use of blunt force to euthanise calves will now be ruled out, except in unforeseen emergency cases.
Mothballed: All mothball products are being removed from the New Zealand market as a result of concern about the risk of poisoning to children.
New From the SMC
Fracking regs: The Parlimentary Comissioner for the Environment has released her second report into fracking regulations. Listen to briefing audio and read expert reaction.
Fracking report in the news: Read extensive coverage of the Commissioner's report and reaction from stakeholders.
Woolly genome: A team of international scientists, including New Zealanders, has mapped the sheep genome.
Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Why science is sexist - Siouxsie Wiles recaps Dr Nicola Gaston's recent lecture on imbalance in the science system.
Can you increase your hitchhiking success using science? - Which strategies are proven to get the thumbs up from a potential ride, asks Michelle Dickinson.
Leave boring behind - Grant Jacobs reviews what is coming up at the NZ International Science Festival in Dunedin.
Code for Life
New Zealand's native freshwater fish are becoming increasingly threatened - Jane Goodman from DOC dives into the latest update on the conservation status of freshwater fish.
Some of the research papers making headlines this week.
Bee brains hold mental map: Using jet-lagged honeybees with tiny radar transponders glued to their backs, New Zealand researchers have shown that bees create a complex cognitive map of their environment rather than just relying on the sun's position and basic landmarks.
Tree-hugging koalas stay cool: Aussie researchers have identified a novel heat loss mechanism exploited by the iconic koala. During hot weather, koalas seek out and hug the trunks of trees, which can be more than 5°C cooler than the air. The authors calculate that this tree-hugging behaviour could halve the amount of heat koalas must lose by evaporating precious water (panting), thereby increasing survival during heat waves.
'One and done' antibiotic: A new single-dose antibiotic is as effective as a twice-daily infusion given for up to 10 days, according to a large US study. Researchers said the advantage of the new drug, oritavancin, is its potential to curtail what has been a key driver of antibiotic resistance: a tendency for patients to stop taking antibiotics once they feel better.
Divorce linked to childhood obesity: New research from Norway has found that the children of parents who are divorced are more likely to be overweight of obese. The study found the children of divorcees were 54% more likely to be overweight/obese than children with married parents.
Potential biopesticide spares pollinators: UK researchers have developed a novel pesticide based on spider venom which kills various insect pests, but has no effect on honeybees health and doesn't interfere with their learning and memory.
Upcoming sci-tech events
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.
• The Future of Healthcare in New Zealand - New Zealand Health Care Congress 2014 - 10-11 June, Auckland.
• KiwiNet Innovation Awards - 'Celebrating New Zealand's Innovation Game Changers' - 11 June, Auckland.