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Science Deadline

Science Deadline

Genome unravels kiwi senses

Kiwi evolved specially adapted smell detectors to help them cope with nocturnal life, according to a new study that has mapped out the genome—the entire genetic code—of the North Island brown kiwi.

The genetic blueprint for our national bird, mapped by a team of European scientists, waspublished this week in the open access journal Genome Biology.

Not only was the kiwi genomefound to be one of the largest bird genomes sequenced to date, but the team also identified evolutionary changes in its genomethat help explain the bird’s unique adaptations to nocturnality – a behaviour found in fewer than 3 per cent of all bird species.

Lead author Diana Le Duc from the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany, said: "We've seen for the first time that kiwi lack color vision, and that their olfactory receptors can probably detect a larger range of odors which may be essential for their night-time foraging.

"These adaptations seem to have happened around 35 million years ago, soon after their arrival in New Zealand, probably as a consequence of their nocturnal lifestyle."

The researchers suggest that kiwi became nocturnal due to competition the with heavyweight moa which monopolised food sources during the day.

Dr Tammy Steeves, a Senior Lecturer in Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics at the University of Canterbury, was excited by the mapping of the kiwi genome.

"The publication of the kiwi genome will help pave the way for a new era in the conservation of bird biodiversity in New Zealand," she told the SMC.

"Indeed, the number of genomes available for New Zealand native birds is growing and I am confident that we are about to witness a surge of conservation genomics research in New Zealand."

Massey University's Distinguished Prof David Penny, an expert in bioinformatics and evolutionary biology, agreed, saying:

"Perhaps it is a little bit of a concern that the work needed to be done outside New Zealand, but it is very good that the work was done! It should help reinforce the need for genomics and its interaction with conservation."

You can read more expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website.

Quoted: Radio Live

"There is a process in science, which looks beautiful from the outside - very polite and lots of agreement...

"In practice it involves a lot of people going into rooms and arguing with one another for a very long time and trying to convince each other of the accuracy of 'what we think'; putting forward arguments and experimental measurements and data.

"It is the realisation as more and more people come and say 'Ah yes, this is the way it must work!' - that is really where that scientific process is captured."

Prof Craig Rodger, discusses consensus in science in relation to research suggesting a decrease in solar activity.

Survey reveals euthanasia reality

A new survey of New Zealand GPs shows that many make decisions about end of life care that may indirectly or directly hasten death.

Caring for a patient at the end of their life is an unenviable challenge faced by many general practitioners.

A new survey led Dr Phillipa Malpas from University of Auckland has canvassed GPs about the medical decisions undertaken in these situations. The research is published in the New Zealand Medical Journal (subscription required).

GPs were asked specifically about the last death at which they were the attending doctor.

Of the 650 respondents, 359 GPs (65.6 per cent) reported that they had made treatment decisions, such as withdrawing treatment or alleviating pain, taking into account the probability that they may hasten death.

Some of these GPs made explicit decisions about hastening death. Of the 359 GPs who reported making end-of-life medical decisions, 4.5 per cent (a total of 16 GPs) reported prescribing, supplying or administering a drug with the 'explicit purpose of hastening the end of life'.

The authors note this would be generally understood as euthanasia, although the survey did not use that term. They conclude:

"Our study shows that medical decisions at the end-of-life that hasten death through the prescribing, supplying or administration of a drug with that explicit purpose, continue to be a reality in New Zealand[...]"

The research follows this week's announcement that the Health Select Committee will undertake an inquiry into the issues around voluntary euthanasia.

Prof Glynn Owen, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Auckland, was not directly involved in the survey but noted that the results highlight a need for more open discussion about assisted dying.

“What these results, like other results from around the world show is that making assisted dying illegal does not, by waving some magic wand, miraculously stop it from happening," he told the SMC.

"Rather it simply means that the practice continues without any clear regulation, guidelines and, importantly, support for the practitioners involved."

You can read more expert commentary and a round up of news coverage on the Science Media Centre website.

Policy news & developments

Callaghan board: Alan Monro, a director and executive in the ICT and technology sector, has been appointed to the Callaghan Innovation Board.

Fungicide submissions: The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is calling for submissions on an application for release of DuPont Zorvec Enicade Fungicide.

Drone rules: New rules on the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) will come into effect on 1 August.

Spinal injuries: The Ministry of Health has launched the New Zealand Spinal Cord Impairment Action Plan 2014–2019.

Introducing Sciblogs News

The science blog network has added a news blog, giving fledgling science writers the opportunity to cover the big research stories of the week.

Sciblogs News arrives ahead of a major revamp of Sciblogs, which will see the online platform upgraded and new bloggers added.

Erica Mather has joined Sciblogs, to write news stories - many of which are based on the latest research featured on Scimex, the SMC's new content sharing site. Stories written by Erica so far cover everything fromhumpback whale spotting to controversy over osteoporosis supplements.

Erica has a biochemistry degree from the University of Otago and is planning to undertake a Masters in Science Communication next year.

She has a passion for knowledge and discovery, and a great desire to communicate complex issues to wider audiences.

"I'm excited to have the opportunity to be a part of the Sciblogs team and contribute to the crucial conversations of science in our society today," Erica says.

"This will provide her with great experience heading into a Masters in Science Communication next year," says SMC Director Peter Griffin.

Visit to see all of Erica's stories.

New from Sciblogs

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:

Scaremongering and chemophobia - The arguments around 'natural' and 'man made' chemicals don't hold much water when it comes to fluoridation, says Ken Perrott.
Open Parachute

Estimating how much a society might spend on life-saving interventions - How much should we spend to save a life in a fair society? The BODE3 Programme Team crunch the numbers.
Public Health Expert

What makes a scream alarming? Siouxsie Wiles looks a new research into how a good shriek gets our alarm bells going.
Infectious Thoughts


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