SMC Heads-Up:GM Pine attack, issues for new scientists and Chinese medicines analysed
Issue 177 - April 13 - 19
Prospects for emerging researchers
The New Zealand Association of Scientists will hold its annual conference on Monday in a forum that will focus on
emerging scientists and the opportunities that exist for them as they embark on their careers.
The conference will feature senior scientists, policy makers and science funding administrators and be addressed by
David Carter, Minister for Primary Industries and of Local Government and David Shearer, leader of the Labour Party, and
spokesperson for Science and Innovation.
In a scene-setting piece
outlining some of the issues the conference will explore, NZAS president Professor Shaun Hendy writes that the way
science is practiced is changing and that New Zealand has to adapt quickly.
"Big scientific problems require big teams these days and our current institutional arrangements, with their high
transaction costs and researcher-scale accountabilities, are ill-suited to meet such challenges. Putting together large,
multi-institutional teams to tackle complex problems remains depressingly difficult in the New Zealand environment".
Hendy, who has researched how innovation ecosystems work and measured the benefits that come from research-based
collaborations, said post-doctoral fellowships were a crucial part of a scientist's training.
"New Zealand is always going to be a small player on the global science and technology scene, yet we make ourselves even
smaller by taking a fragmented, opaque and often haphazard approach to doing science."
The Minister of Science and Innovation, Steven Joyce yesterday announced
changes to the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships as a result of consultation with the science sector. Joyce is
travelling and will be unable to attend the NZAS conference.
The SMC will be gathering commentary and recording podcasts during the conference which will be available on our website
On the science radar...
Giraffes' old coats
, bee-mite battles
, a martian monolith
, oil-cleaning water
, and the lady in red
GM pine trials vandalised in Rotorua
Police are investigating a break-in at a radiata pine field trial facility in Rotorua after hundreds of
genetically-modified year-old trees were slashed and uprooted
The intruders were clever - they not only cut through perimeter fences but tunneled under a monitored security fence to
get to the trees, which were planted about a year ago. Scion, the Crown research institute undertaking the trial,
reckons the damage amounts to around $400,000.
It will put back the research - which involves two trials testing herbicide resistance and methods of growing denser
woods - by one to two years, but Scion has vowed to carry on the research. Nevertheless, the successful attack is a blow
to the already depleted research into genetically modified organisms underway in New Zealand.
Some scientists now fear that our ability to undertake GM research is so depleted due to the well-orchestrated attacks
against it and the fear and doubt this has raised in the public consciousness, that we risk losing our edge in
Associate Professor, Jon Hickford, who is President of the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural
Sciences, told the Science Media Centre
"While we might think we can bury our heads in the sand and not be involved in GM research, this is unlikely to convince
anyone outside of NZ.
"It will quite obviously further damage the morale of scientists, who as a professional group are demonstrably poorly
paid and who suffer poor job security as well."
Attacks on GM field trial facilities have sporadically disrupted research over the years:
1999: Activist group "Wild Greens" uproot a genetically modified trial potato crop at Lincoln
2002: Three years of research in GM potatoes ruined when a Crop & Food trial is destroyed by activists.
The Environmental Protection Agency last month called for submissions on GM trial applications. A group including
University of Auckland, Massey University, the University of Otago, Lincoln University, Scion Research, AgResearch,
ViaLactia Biosciences New Zealand, Plant & Food Research, and Canterbury University made two applications to use genetically modified Arabidopsis thaliana - (thale cress), in containment.
The EPA noted
: "The group propose all GM Arabidopsis research at these research organisations will comply with a standardised set of
controls to ensure the plant remains securely contained, aligning international best practice procedures in New Zealand
'Dangers' in Chinese medicine - study
A DNA analysis of several traditional Chinese medicine products has revealed illegal and potentially toxic ingredients.
A new study, PLoS Genetics today, analysed 15 samples of traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs) seized at the Australian border, identifying the
species origin of ingredients in the pills and powders.
Researchers detected genetic material from the Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and the saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) which are classified by the IUCN Red List
as 'vulnerable' and 'critically endangered' respectively. Products derived from these animals are illegal to trade
according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES
The analysis also detected DNA from illegal and potentially toxic plants (Ephedra and Asarum).
"TCMs have a long cultural history, but today consumers need to be aware of the legal and health safety issues before
adopting them as a treatment option," Dr Mike Bunce, research leader and Murdoch University Australian Research Council
Future Fellow, said.
The findings come as the parliament Health Select Committee is considering the Natural Health Products bill
, which aims to tighten regulations around the manufacture, sale and labeling of natural health products in New Zealand.
Professor Shaun Holt, Victoria University of Wellington, and member of interim expert committee for the Natural Health
Product Regulation Bill, highlighted three main problems with TCMs:
• a lack of clinical data on safety and efficacy
• concerns about product quality and contamination
• the inclusion of ingredients from endangered animal species
"I have no doubt that future research will demonstrate the efficacy and safety of some products, and that quality
control will improve to acceptable levels," Prof Holt said.
"But currently, I personally would not use or recommend any TCM biological product for the reasons outlined above."
Further information and commentary can be found here
"If you have useful innovation, you will have a ready market, you will be able to access capital, you will be able to
hire the skilled people, you will be able to use resources more efficiently, and you will be able to afford to access
the infrastructure to support you.
"If we want faster economic growth for our country then innovation is essential."
-- Hon Steven Joyce, Minister of Science and Innovation
New from the SMC
Chinese Medicines: A DNA analysis of several traditional Chinese medicines has identified ingredients
from potentially toxic plants and endangered animals.
Indonesian Quake: Experts from around the globe offer insight into the the Indonesian quake
and subsequent tsunami warning.
Dental x-rays: New research has drawn a link between a history dental x-ray imaging and incidence of meningioma, a type of brain tumor
- but in light of modern regulations and technology, experts are not concerned.
In the news:
Rex machinas: A senior Indian Congress leader who was wheelchair bound for 8 years is back on his feet thanks to Rex Bionics
, an innovative New Zealand mobility solutions company.
Ripped knickers, forensic insights: New research from the University of Otago examines how underwear fabric tears
under experimental conditions, aiming to provide forensic data for sexual assault cases.
SKA Split?: Political pressure may lead to the much sought-after Square Kilometer Array project being split
between Africa and Australasia, rather than being based in either one or the other as originally discussed.
NZAS on emerging scientists: New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) president Professor Shaun Hendy.addresses the question of whether emerging
scientists still have a future
in New Zealand.
Some of the highlights from this week's posts:
Nope, we are not going to hell in a handcart
- Futurist and author Mark Stevenson has been in Wellington, espousing "unashamed optimism about the future," reports
The shape wind to come
- Bryan Walker gets to grips with a new report from NZ Wind Energy Association (NZWEA), setting out their vision for the
Tearing knickers and why it needs to be done
- Despite all we know about forensics, we need to looking for more clues says Anna Sandiford.
NZ ETS to be watered down (again), but emissions news good
- Gareth Renowden analyses the latest announcements regarding the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme.
Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.
Ladybirds may combat invasive pest: NZ scientists say that growers may be able to combat a relatively-new pest insect incursion -- invasive tomato-potato
psyllids (TPP) -- by using a natural enemy already established here... ladybirds. Lincoln researchers say two Australian
ladybirds which have naturalised here may be able to make a meal of the pests, reducing the reliance of growers on
frequent applications of insecticides with highly variable results.
TB model offers solutions for deer farmers: A computation model of a paratuberculosis spread in New Zealand deer farms offers some clues as to ways that infections
can be controlled and limited. The model showed that disease prevalence and incidence went down 50% when rotational
grazing compared to continuous grazing was adopted. Identification and culling of young deer in a highly infectious
state (shedding) also limits the spread of disease.
12 APR: Want to look bigger? Get a gun: A study funded by the US Air Force confirms what scrawny thugs have long known: Brandishing a weapon makes a man appear
bigger and stronger than he would otherwise. Researchers asked hundreds of Americans to guess the size and muscularity
of four men based solely on photographs of their hands holding a range of easily recognizable objects, including
handguns. The authors found that participants imagined the individuals holding a weapon to be bigger and stronger than
those who were not.
11 APR: Escaping salmon benefit ecosystems: New US research suggests that allowing more Pacific salmon to spawn in coastal streams will not only benefit the natural
environment, including grizzly bears, but could also lead to more salmon in the ocean and thus larger salmon harvests in
the long term, a win-win for ecosystems and humans. The researchers investigate how increasing "escapement" - the number
of salmon that escape fishing nets to enter streams and spawn-can improve the natural environment.
Fragile X syndrome reversed in mice: A new compound reverses many of the major symptoms associated with Fragile X syndrome (FXS), that causes inherited
intellectual disability and autism. Inhibiting a receptor for an excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate, may mitigate
major symptoms, according to mouse studies. Around 1000 New Zealanders are affected by FXS and 8000 New Zealanders are
thought to be carriers.
Re-programming drug memories: People previously addicted to heroin can be kept from relapsing into drugs -- without resorting to other narcotics or
chemicals -- by changing their memories of the drug's effects. Research with rats and human volunteers has shown that
changing a sober person's memories of past drug use can give a long-lasting detox.
Some of the policy highlights from this week:
New Marsden conveners: Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce today announced the appointment
of three new convenors to the Marsden Fund Council: Dr Ian Ferguson (Cellular, Molecular and Physiological Biology
Panel), Professor Jari Kaipio (Mathematical and Information Sciences Panel) and Professor Robert Hannah (Humanities
Panel). Dr Grant Scobie returns for a second term (Economics and Human and Behavioural Sciences Panel).
Pharma spending up: Health Minister Tony Ryall says despite tight times, spending on pharmaceuticals increased
by $180 million over the last three years. "This is a significant investment giving more New Zealanders access to
subsidised medicines." Mr Ryall said.
Upcoming sci-tech events
•Implementing lessons learnt
- The 2012 Annual General Meeting of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering - April 13-15, Christchurch.
- HRC Pacific Health Research Fono 2012 - April 18-19, Auckland.
•Blue Energy: from International Vision to Reality
- Aotearoa Wave and Tidal Energy Association (AWATEA)'s annual conference - April 19-20, Wellington.
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar