Science Media Centre Briefing
Issue 147 August 26 - September 1
In This Issue
Salmon study stirs up Canadians New research by a New Zealand biologist has caused a splash in Canada but has barely made a ripple here.
Dr Martin Krkosek, from Otago Univeristy, and Canadian colleagues, analysed data from wild and farmed salmon in British Columbia and found that when salmon farms had high levels of parasitic sea lice, wild populations also suffered.
The study was published this week in the international journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Dr Krkosek told the SMC, "When the parasite numbers on farmed salmon are high, the wild salmon stocks that share those waters tend to decline. Although salmon farmers can use medications to protect their own fish from parasites, it appears they may need even stronger controls in order to protect their wild neighbours."
The results refute earlier research which suggested salmon farms had no impact on wild populations. The study also comes at a critical time for salmon fishing and farming in Canada, as a government appointed group - the Cohen Commission - is currently investigating the decline of salmon in the Fraser river in British Columbia.
Krkosek's study has stoked the debate between environmental and commercial salmon interests in Canada and the US and has been the subject of overseas media coverage. Here in New Zealand, however, the study has largely gone unnoticed. Krkosek acknowledged that Canada may have more of a stake in salmon than New Zealand,
"I think this is unlikely to be a problem in NZ salmon aquaculture at present because operations here are relatively small-scale and have high environmental performance. However, it is worth noting that time and again disease has emerged as a fundamental problem in aquaculture as industries expand.
"As we have seen with salmon and sea lice, this can create problems for not only the fish being raised in an aquaculture farm but also for wild fish that inhabit the surrounding waters There are lessons to be learned here for the future of aquaculture development in NZ, which is a future growth area."
NZ suicide rate remains flat An unprecedented release of statistics on suicide from the Chief Coroner shows suicides increased by just 0.3 per cent in the last year, compared to 2007 - 2008.
A study that specifically looked at suicide in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes found that there was in fact a small decrease in suicides after last September's major quake.
Overall, the data gathered from the Ministry of Justice records, shows the suicide rate has risen from 540 deaths per 100,000 people in 2007-2008 to 558 in 2010-2011.
The Chief Coroner, Judge Neil MacLean, said that:
- Men are three times more likely to commit suicide then women - Most at-risk age groups include 15-29 year olds and 45-54 year olds - Maori have the highest rate of suicide - Hanging, strangulation and suffocation accounting for more than half of all deaths.
Last week it was revealed in a Mental Health Commission report, that New Zealand has the highest female youth suicide rate in the OECD. However Judge McLean cautioned against comparing New Zealand to other countries that may have accurate data on suicide.
On the science radar
RSNZ weighs in on traditional medicine The Royal Society of New Zealand has recommended that the practice of traditional Chinese medicine be regulated.
Chinese medicine can include herbal medicine, acupuncture and massage therapy and is commonly practiced in New Zealand. However, there is little in the way of peer-reviewed literature to back up many of these traditional medicinal treatments, a point the RSNZ has seized on in making its call for tighter controls.
In a submission to a Ministry of Health request for feedback it recommended that the practice of traditional Chinese medicine become a regulated profession under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003.
"Regulation of TCM will ensure that all TCM practitioners are aware of the limitation of their service, and to know when to refer clients to another health service if necessary," it wrote in a submission that included a small survey of attitudes to traditional Chinese medicine undertaken by research psychologist and RSNZ member, Dr Marian Mare.
However the suggestion that traditional medicine practitioners be treated as legitimate health service providers - as they are in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, has drawn criticism from prominent US science blogger PZ Meyers:
"It apparently doesn't matter whether [TCM] works or not, and the fact that it can cause harm was actually used to support endorsing it in a fine piece of topsy-turvy logic," he wrote on his Pharyngula blog, which is the most well-read popular science blog in the world attracting 40,000 readers per day.
The Royal Society noted in its submission that there was "potential harm" from the practice of traditional Chinese medicine.
"It is possible that an occult fracture is missed in a client consulting a TCM practitioner for foot pain, or early meningococcal disease overlooked in a client with fevers and general malaise."
Four decades of rising obesity The impact of the global 'obesity epidemic' has been highlighted by health professionals in a top medical journal.
The Lancet 'special series', on obesity comprised of several international papers was published this afternoon in the leading medical journal.
The latest research details the extent of obesity over the last 40 years on a global scale, with around 1.5 billion adults now classed as overweight and a further 0.5 billion as obese. Disturbingly 170 million children are classified as overweight or obese. In places like Western Australia and the US, obesity has overtaken tobacco as the largest preventable cause of disease.
In the series researchers call for government-level action, demanding policies that would slow the literal growth of the obese population. Recommendations include banning the marketing of some foods to children and pushing for healthier product formulations. While some countries are doing better than others, the authors state, "no country can act as a public health exemplar for reduction of obesity and type 2 diabetes."
They also note that, as UN Member States gather in September for the first ever UN High-Level Meeting on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), "the inexorable global rise of obesity will be the toughest challenge that they face."
New Zealand Herald
"The combination of bright people, a strong base of research and development activity, and a diverse and innovative "eco-system" which can create the conditions where niches are found and opportunities for value creation and capture are exploited, is a winning formula."
Owen Glenn, Busnessman
New from the SMC
In the News:
Climate change and the cold: Writing in the Dominion Post Weekend paper, Michael Forbes looks at the connections between the recent chilly weather and climate change.
Quake focus at psych
conference: Trauma and the resilience of Cantabrians in
the wake of earthquakes has been the focus of reporting on research
presented at a psychology conference in Queenstown this
Antarctic research freeze: New Zealand's Antarctic research body has put several projects on hold due to budget limitations and logistical problems, write Paul Gorman for the Press. Reflections on science:
Sowing the seeds for real growth:
In the New Zealand Herald, businessman and philanthropist
Owen Glenn writes about getting the most out of innovation
in Kiwi agricultural research.
Salmon study stirs Canadians: Research led by a New Zealand scientist has shown that salmon farming in Canada may be having a negative impact on wild populations due to the spread of parasites. Biologist Martin Krkosek explains his research and why it matters. Aus SMC:
Briefing: Modified mosquitoes combat dengue fever: Australian researchers have announced the results of their work into modifying and releasing mosquitoes to combat dengue fever. Scientists explain how they modified the mosquitoes and what happened when they released them into the community in Cairns.
Some of the highlights from this week's posts include:
Thinking Old-Style Big - Solid Energy is looking to go big with coal in NZ - really big. But Bryan Walker isn't so sure bigger is better. Hot Topic
Momentum conservation - Marcus
Wilson dodges billiard balls and car crashes to give some
alternative physics analogies.
Snow doesn't stop hydrologists -
Despite the atrocious weather last week, water scientists
(and citizens) were out and about dutifully recording data,
notes Daniel Collins.
Weekend Nanotech: Snot-light? - Elf
Eldrige highlight an interesting source of novel LED
components - mucus.
Just So Science
Not Darwin's tree of life - Anyone
attributing the 'Tree of Life' to Charles Darwin is barking
up the wrong theory. Grant Jacobs explains.
Code for Life
Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.
How many species
exist? A daunting question, but one that scientists have
to tackle, and the latest answer is eight million, seven
hundred thousand species (give or take 1.3 million). That is
a new, estimated total number of species on Earth -- the
most precise calculation ever offered -- with 65 million
species found on land and 2.2 million in the ocean.
Announced by Census of Marine Life scientists, the figure is
based on an innovative, validated analytical technique that
dramatically narrows the range of previous
could power cellphones: Novel energy-harvesting
technology which uses a process called "reverse
electrowetting" could drastically change the face of
portable electronics. Mechanical energy is converted to
electrical energy by using a micro-fluidic device consisting
of thousands of liquid micro-droplets interacting with a
novel nano-structured substrate. This technology could
enable a novel footwear-embedded energy harvester that
captures energy produced by humans during walking to be used
to power mobile electronic devices.
yeast hunted down: Researchers have uncovered the
long-mysterious genetic identity of a species of yeast
commonly used to brew lager beer. Researchers used molecular
techniques to scour the Southern beech woodlands of
Northwestern Patagonia, home to many yeast species, and
found the forebear to an unusual hybrid strain of ale yeast,
which they dubbed Saccharomyces eubayanus. The authors say
their findings "illuminate the role that fermented beverages
have played in human civilization and provide new strategies
for improving yeasts for brewing and biofuel
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Climate cycle linked to
conflict: In the first study of its kind, researchers
have linked a natural global climate cycle to periodic
increases in warfare. The arrival of El Niño, which every
three to seven years boosts temperatures and cuts rainfall,
doubles the risk of civil wars across 90 affected tropical
countries, and may help account for a fifth of worldwide
conflicts during the past half-century, say the authors. The
research has important implications for the future if a
predicted rise in global temperature does occur.
cross-breeding improved our immune system: Some modern
humans may have their ancient ancestors to thank for the
robust immune systems that they enjoy today. According to a
new study, it's likely that some breeding between early
modern humans and Neanderthals first introduced forms of the
HLA genes, famous for their roles in immune defense,
into the human genome. Scientist performed population
genetic studies to trace the path of various combinations of
such genes over the course of early human history.
success: Nine years after treatment, gene therapy has
kept a rare immune disorder in check, report two new studies
in a small group of children. Children with severe combined
immunodeficiency - or SCID - lack virtually all immune
protection from microbes. Gene therapy offers a way to avoid
these pitfalls by taking out blood cells from SCID patients,
genetically fixing a defect in these cells, and returning
the repaired cells to patients. Researchers now report
successful treatment of a majority of patients with SCID. A
related perspective article discusses the history of gene
therapy trials for SCID.
Science Translational Medicine
Some of the highlights of this week's policy news:
MAF - Fisheries merger conformed- The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will merge with the Ministry of Fisheries, saving more than $18 million in the coming financial year, but also resulting in job cuts.
Alcohol expert forum planned - Justice Minister Simon Power announced that cabinet has agreed to establish an expert forum to consider the effectiveness of further restrictions on advertising and sponsorship to reduce alcohol-related harm.
EEZ bill introduced - The Government has introduced legislation to manage the environmental effects of activities in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) and announced interim measures to manage the environmental effects of activities before the new law is passed.
West coast reserves - Five new marine reserves, including the two largest in mainland New Zealand, are to be established on the South Island's West Coast, were announced by the Ministers of Conservation and Fisheries. The new reserves are Kahurangi, Punakaiki, Okarito, Gorge and a small educational site at Ship Creek near Haast, totalling 17,528ha combined.
UFB update - The government's Ultra Fast Broadband initiative (UFB) will see fibre rolled out to more than 50,000 premises around New Zealand in the next twelve months including schools, hospitals and businesses, according to the Minister of Communications and Information Technology.
Upcoming sci-tech events New Zealand Association for Behaviour Analysis Conference - 26-28 August, Hamilton. Australasian Winter Conference on Brain Research 2011 - 27 August - 31 September, Queenstown. Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting - 29-31 August, Queenstown. Cutting Edge 2011- National Addiction Treatment Conference - 1-3 September, Auckland Public Health Association Conference - 31 August - 2 September, Christchurch. Managing pests: The future of biocontrol - 1st Bio-Protection Symposium - 31 August, Christchurch. 3rd Combined Australian and New Zealand Entomological Societies Conference - 28 August - 1 September, Christchurch For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.