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SMC Bulletin - Get on board with blockchain

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.
Christchurch, University of Canterbury
WED, 24th October, 9.00am – 1.00pm
Dunedin, University of Otago
THURS, 25th October, 9.00am – 1.00pm

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.
Wellington, Royal Society Te Apārangi
22-23rd November
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.

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