Gene-editing claim concerns
Internationally, scientists and ethicists have expressed concerns after claims that researchers in China used CRISPR
gene editing in human embryos that resulted in live births.
The Associated Press reported on Monday
(NZT) that Dr He Jiankui - from the Southern University of Science and Technology of China - had apparently altered
embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy so far.
He said the birth had resulted in twin girls, one of whom had two copies of the edited gene - conferring protection
against HIV infection - but the other had just one, which would not provide protection.
Researchers have expressed scepticism that the claims are even true, but have widely condemned them nonetheless. He has
since presented his research in Hong Kong at the second international summit on genome editing, but nothing has been
peer reviewed or published.
University of Otago lecturer Dr Jeanne Snelling, from the Bioethics Centre and Faculty of Law, said the initial reports
were "extremely concerning".
"Most of the international scientific community agree that it the science is far too premature for CRISPR research to be
used in a clinical context."
In addition, the gene that He claims to have edited was not associated with a serious condition, "in fact this was
essentially an unnecessary enhancement procedure that would be associated with risks that do not have offsetting
benefits," Dr Snelling said.
University of Sydney's Associate Professor of Bioethics Ainsley Newson said it appeared the research "wanted to be the
first rather than waiting to be safe".
"It is still early days for human genome editing; with lots of scientific and ethical issues needing to be ironed out
before it is used to change a genome of an embryo and its future descendants."
Assistant Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Peter Mills wrote his reflections
of He's presentation of his work in Hong Kong on Wednesday and the ensuing Q session.
"My overall impression from He’s answers was of someone who really just did not know what he did not know, who simply
was not aware of the norms and expectations of clinical research and innovation, and who was unaccustomed to critical
"Irresponsible it may have been, but the creation of genome edited babies is now something that is a real part of the
social world, not something that can be left behind in the laboratory or abandoned as a mis-step.
"This means that the scientific community has now to respond to it and to decide how to move forwards from here, rather
than bracketing it out and returning to the path that they had hoped to follow in the first place."
The SMC asked an expert to comment
on the initial reports.
"There are already locations in New Zealand that are unable to get insurance.
"And some people don't know that until they go to sell their house and then they find that anyone who wants to buy their
property isn't able to get insurance."
Deep South researcher and Climate Sigma managing director Belinda Storey on the impacts of sea level rise on housing insurance.
Media focus on climate change
This week Stuff launched an in-depth project focused on covering climate change, amidst new reports warning of the dire
consequences of inaction.
Stuff Editor in Chief Patrick Crewdson kicked off the project with an editorial
warning that complacency might be the worst reaction to the threat of climate change.
"Under an avalanche of foreboding news – sea level rises, melting ice sheets, accelerating species extinction,
heatwaves, ocean acidification – despair comes naturally.
"Yet despite the alarming evidence of the need for urgent action, climate change still falls victim to a shrugging
He wrote that the project - Quick! Save the Planet - would aim to keep climate change "at the foreground of the national
The project's launch included a feature article
from Stuff National Correspondent Charlie Mitchell focused on the impact of climate change on coastal communities,
including the likelihood it would exacerbate current inequities.
University of Otago political theorist Dr Lisa Ellis, who has been studying how the risk of sea-level rise is
distributed, said communities with less economic power could end up being forced to move, while wealthier communities
may use public money to fortify the coasts.
"The rich get seawalls and the poor get moved."
The project's launch coincided with a number of major climate change reports' release: On the day after Thanksgiving,
the US government released a report
from a number of federal agencies warning of the economic and humanitarian costs of leaving climate change un-checked.
Then on Wednesday, the United Nations released a report
ahead of next month's COP24 conference in Poland concluding that most countries won't meet the Paris Agreement's 2020
Today The Lancet published a synthesis of the effect climate change was already having on human health, including a decline in crop
yields across 30 countries raising concerns about malnutrition in some regions.
Dr Rhys Jones, co-convener of OraTaiao, told the NZ Herald
that the potential benefits of mitigating climate change were "staggering".
"Rapidly phasing out coal, oil and gas; switching from car trips to more walking, cycling and public transport;
healthier diets lower in red meat and dairy; and energy efficient, warm homes will all cut emissions while also reducing
many of the major diseases that kill New Zealanders."
Upcoming SAVVY workshops
Our flagship media training course returns in 2019 - with the first two-day workshop of the year in Christchurch.
Further 2019 workshops will be confirmed at a later date, but we're taking applications for Christchurch now, and it
would be a good idea to apply before Christmas:
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.
Applications close 10 January
Policy news & developments
Stink bugs on ship:
A ship transporting vehicles has been ordered to leave New Zealand waters following the discovery of live brown
marmorated stink bugs on board.
A targeted vaccination programme in Northland aims to control an outbreak of meningococcal disease.
Bag ban confirmed:
The Government has confirmed a ban on plastic single-use shopping bags will come into effect around the middle of next
Liver harm warning:
The Director General of Health has renewed a public warning following more reports of serious liver harm from taking
Predator free discussion:
DOC has asked for feedback on a discussion guide around achieving the Predator Free 2050 goal.
The Government plans to regulate vaping and smokeless tobacco products, including banning vaping in bars, restaurants
Block Offer consultation:
New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals has started consultation with iwi and hapū on the proposed 2018 Block Offer area for petroleum exploration.
Kids on bikes:
$23 million will be invested over three years to expand the Bikes in Schools programme aimed at getting more kids on
A bill to introduce mandatory country of origin labelling for foods was passed in Parliament on Wednesday night.
MBIE has finalised a $49 million contract with Antarctica New Zealand to fund the Antarctic Science Platform.
The Government is asking people to register their interest in sharing their surgical mesh experiences, in order to
improve patient safety in the future.
What we've been reading
With an abundance of news stories to possibly read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we
highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.
As NZ faces its latest meningitis outbreak, it's important to look at how health professionals and communities succeeded
in stopping our last one in South Auckland in the 1990s. For Newsroom, Emma Espiner talks to Auckland population health
Professor Chris Bullen, who was one of the small team that helped turn around meningitis rates in the most affected
communities before there was a vaccine.
This long-term Stuff project aims to disturb our collective complacency. In an introductory editorial, Stuff editor-in-chief
Patrick Crewdson, says "with insistent, inconvenient coverage, we intend to make the realities of climate change feel
tangible – and unignorable". The project accepts the statement that climate change is real and caused by human activity.
The government’s proposal for a Zero Carbon Bill has exposed an argument between scientists about the importance of
methane. But it’s not really about science, as Eloise Gibson reports in this deep-dive feature for Newsroom.
New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network
Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Hoiho takes pride of place on our $5 note, but we're still learning about how and when the yellow-eyed penguin arrived
on Mainland New Zealand.
Lost World, Vanished Lives
Ever noticed water beading on the leaves of red cabbage? Marcus Wilson explains why that happens.
Grant Jacobs is sceptical about reports of CRISPR-edited babies.
Code for Life
Otago public health researchers review the evidence on the benefits vs harm of artificially-sweetened drinks.
Public Health Expert
Please see the SMC Events Calendar
for more events and details.
•Reducing our prison population
: 3 December, Tauranga. Dr Juan Tauri from the University Waikato will present an overview of past attempts to review
the performance of the New Zealand criminal justice system.
•China's new tourists
: 4th December, Wellington. This conference brings world-leading experts on Chinese outbound tourism to New Zealand to
debate the drivers and shifting nature of the tourist market.
: 4th December, Wellington. Hear two personal stories of what it is like to seek refuge in New Zealand from Inge Woolf,
who came to New Zealand as a Holocaust refugee in the 1950s, and Ibrahim Omerwho arrived in 2008 from war-torn Eritrea.
: 4th December, Dunedin. Professor David Craw talks about the origins, history, landscape and biology of Otago gold. The
event will also be live-streamed.
•Astronomy on Tap
: 4th December, Wellington. The International Space Station turns 20 this year and is still going strong. Space Place is
running a nighttime event about the ISS.
•The Tapestry Project
: 5th December, Dunedin. Members of the Otago Embroiders Guild will be working on panels for the New Zealand: A History
in Stitch project. Come and chat.
•Free from financial crash?
: 5th December, Wellington. Prof Martin Hellwig examines the health of the financial system and how we'd weather a
financial crash similar to the crisis in 2007-2009. Short answer: not well.
•Human vs Machine
: 5th December, Auckland. Lorena Jaume-Palasi will explain the major differences between human and algorithm-assisted
decision-making and share the trends she is seeing internationally.
: 5th December, Palmerston North. Graeme Gillies, Senior Research Scientist for Fonterra, will be talking about the
surprisingly unusual physics of cheese.
•Inside the Nobel
: 6th December, Dunedin. Five University of Otago academics discuss the significance behind each of the 2018 Nobel
•Disruption and Renewal
: 5-7 December, Christchurch. The DevNet Development Studies conference will explore climate disruption affecting the
Pacific and Asia, and political disruptions in Myanmar and its effects on Bangladesh.