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Planning for future GM foods coming down the line, the food safety regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is calling for suggestions for how it should consider applications for foods that have been made using new genetic techniques that aren’t currently covered by their laws.

The current code only covers food produced by genetic techniques that add DNA into a genome and doesn’t cover newer gene editing techniques like CRISPR/Cas9 which knock out genes or proteins, or others that don’t change the DNA of the final food product.

FSANZ are asking for submissions on how these newer techniques should be assessed before they go to market. Options range from treating them like conventional breeding techniques – given a green light once a technique has been proved safe – or to be treated like current genetically modified organisms which would mean that each application requires a rigorous safety assessment.

The consultation report won’t change the current regulations or labelling requirements, but it will inform how they move forward on this issue.

The SMC asked genetics and food safety experts to comment on the consultation report. Feel free to use these comments in your reporting.

Professor Peter K Dearden, Genomics Aotearoa and University of Otago, comments:

“In the past few years a range of novel technologies, many based on a technology called CRISPR/cas9 gene editing, have been developed. Many of these technologies challenge the only way we have thought about transgenic organisms (GM organisms), because they can change the DNA of an organism, rather than inserting a new piece of DNA.

“This technology mirrors somewhat mutagenesis, a technology that produced all of the plants of the ‘green revolution’, for example. Mutagenesis involves making lots of mutation in an organism’s DNA and then selecting those that have a useful outcome. Gene editing is less scattergun, but a reasonably precise way to make the mutation that you want.

“This falls between the old technologies of mutagenesis, and the newer ones (though now outdated) of transgenesis. These technologies do use a lab manipulation to change the DNA, but they don’t involve the insertion of a piece of DNA from another organism.

“FSANZ are investigating what people think about the outcomes of these new technologies, and a few more specific ones that have similar effects. This is incredibly timely, as products made with gene editing are already being developed overseas, and detecting gene edited organism is much harder than detecting a transgenic one.

“These new technologies have enormous potential but getting their regulation wrong may, on one hand stifle innovation, and on the other cause disquiet about risk. I applaud FSANZ for asking questions about these technologies, and am impressed by the thoughtful, knowledgeable and effective ways they have presented the information.”

The post Regulator asks how food editing by new genetic techniques should be treated – Expert Reaction appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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The Prime Minister’s Science Prizes have been presented in Wellington today, awarding a total of $1 million across five categories.

The top prize has been awarded to a multidisciplinary team from Plant & Food Research that helped the New Zealand kiwifruit industry recover after the discovery of the vine-killing disease Psa (Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae).

Plant & Food Research chief operating officer Dr Bruce Campbell said the kiwifruit industry in New Zealand was in a “golden period” in late 2010. “It was an easy crop to manage, the industry was growing well, and then suddenly everything changed on the 5th of November, 2010, when we discovered in a sample that we’d been sent that Psa was now here in New Zealand.”

“That was a really scary day for us because it meant that that world that we’d been in before was fundamentally changed, and the science was really going to have to dig deep and step up to find a solution.”

The industry’s recovery has been possible due to a new kiwifruit cultivar, Gold3, which is sold as Zespri® SunGold Kiwifruit.

Science communication award

The Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize has been presented to Damian Christie, a lawyer-turned-journalist, who will use the prize money to establish New Zealand’s first science video news agency.

The Prize recognises the success of Damian’s creation and production of ‘Jamie’s World on Ice’, which featured YouTuber Jamie Curry exploring Antarctica and relaying her findings to an international following on social media. The video series gained more than 2.5 million views on social media, featured on television, radio, in several media publications and played on Air New Zealand international flights.

Other award winners

The Prime Minister’s 2017 MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize goes to Dr Carla Meledandri from the University of Otago who is at the forefront of developing applications for nanotechnology. This includes incorporating silver nanoparticles into a range of breakthrough products designed to treat and prevent dental disease through a start-up company, Silventum Limited, that she has co-founded and a technology licensing deal with a multinational dental company. The products offer a new solution for tooth decay, one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the world, and have potential to make dental care more affordable.

The Prime Minister’s 2017 Science Teacher Prize has been won by Nelson science teacher Sarah Johns who is in charge of junior science at Nelson College for Girls. Sarah says she empowers her students by encouraging them to share her own philosophy of life—to be curious, open to possibilities and willing to take a risk.

The Prime Minister’s 2017 Future Scientist Prize has been won by former Auckland Grammar School student Jonathan Chan, for development of a sophisticated, 3D-printed mesh, emulating a spiderweb, as a novel approach to atmospheric water collection. With support from his teachers and staff at the University of Auckland, Jonathan researched a low cost, environmentally friendly system of fog collection to provide good quality drinking water, where it might otherwise be unavailable, in less economically developed countries.

Read more on the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes website.

The post Top researchers honoured in Prime Minister’s Science Prizes appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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Some women who were unknowingly included in the ‘Unfortunate Experiment’ at Auckland’s National Women’s Hospital went on to develop cervical cancer after being diagnosed with microinvasive cancer but not given treatment.

Pap smear. Ed Uthman/Flickr CC.

A study led by University of Otago researchers, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, found that of the 82 women diagnosed with microinvasive cervical cancer, 15 developed a more advanced cancer and eight died from the disease. Previous studies have looked at women included in the unethical clinical study who had cervical pre-cancer, but this is the first study looking at microinvasive cancers among the women.

Lead author Emeritus Professor Charlotte Paul said it was not widely known that Dr Herbert Green’s trial of withholding treatment also included women with microinvasive cervical cancer. “We have reported these findings in order to document and acknowledge the harm suffered by these women and to complete the picture of the effects of Dr Green’s study.”

Professor Ron Jones, who wrote Doctors in Denial about his experience as part of the group that blew the whistle on Dr Green’s study, told Newstalk ZB “we felt we had a responsibility or a duty to report the outcome so the world knows because there are still some people who are in denial”.

“We’re still waiting for the University of Auckland to give an apology, who was the employer of the doctors who were involved in the experiment. We wanted the truth to prevail and I think that’s happened with the series of papers that we’ve written on these unfortunate women.”

The study was covered by local media, including:

NZ Herald: New research on women with cancer involved in the ‘unfortunate experiment’
Newstalk ZB: New details revealed in case of the ‘unfortunate experiment’
TVNZ: Report out on National Women’s Hospital’s ‘Unfortunate Experiment’
Otago Daily Times: Cervical cancer stories from ‘experiment’ told
Radio NZ: New ‘Unfortunate Experiment’ report reveals cancer sufferers

The post More evidence ‘Unfortunate Experiment’ led to cancer – In the News appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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While the ozone holes in the poles are recovering, ozone levels are still dropping everywhere else between Russia to the Southern Ocean (between 60⁰N and 60⁰S), according to international research published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. 

While ozone levels in the upper atmosphere have been recovering near the poles in recent years, this new research has found that the bottom part of the ozone layer at more populated latitudes is not recovering. They don’t know exactly why this is happening, but the researchers suggest it might be a product of climate change or caused by other shorter-lived ozone-destroying chemicals found in solvents and paint strippers that weren’t included in the Montreal Protocol.

The Australian Science Media Centre gathered expert commentary on the research. Please feel free to use these comments in your reporting.

Professor Steven Sherwood, UNSW Climate Change Research Centre, said:

“This finding is very interesting for scientists but I don’t think it has any broader significance yet.

“The authors do not call into question the prevailing view that the ozone layer is entering a recovery phase after the damage caused in the 1980’s and 90’s by refrigerant gases, which were phased out by the Montreal Protocol.

“They do find a curious ozone decrease in a particular altitude range below the main ozone layer, which suggests that changes to the atmospheric circulation may have happened up there. The community will have to look at this more carefully before we know what it means.”

Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe, Griffith University, said:

“The amount of ozone-depleting substances has been reduced dramatically, from about 1.5 million tonnes of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)-equivalent to 0.3 million. It has not been reduced to zero.

“The reduction in the rate of release of these chemicals has halted the worsening of ozone depletion, but we are not yet seeing significant repair.

“This paper also shows that the system is complicated and there are still aspects we do not understand well enough to model the observed data. It should be another urgent reminder that we must scale back our assault on natural systems if we are to achieve our stated goal of living sustainably.

“Since we have known for more than forty years that a group of chemicals weakens the ozone layer, which protects all life from damaging ultra-violet radiation, phasing these chemicals out completely should be a high priority.”

Dr Paul Read, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, said:

“Although the authors suggest otherwise, this paper could be a challenge to the effectiveness of the Montreal Protocol.

“Ozone, like atmospheric carbon, is critical to maintaining the survivability of Earth’s solar budget – all of life depends on them being maintained in a tight range. Ozone we need; too much atmospheric carbon we don’t.

“This is because energy from the Sun comes in three types – per kilowatt, 32 watts is ultraviolet (UV), which destroys DNA, 445 watts is visible light, and 526 is infrared, the stuff you feel as heat.

“Whereas a thin film of ozone protects us from the DNA scrambling effects of UV, a growing film of carbon emissions lets infrared waves in but then traps them, causing the Greenhouse effect.  As for ozone, most people know that our wholesale use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) amassed in the atmosphere and created a hole in the ozone layer that was then exposing us to cancer-causing UV light.

“For fear of skin cancer, Australian beach culture changed overnight – the ‘slip slop slap’ campaign, the invention of rashies, etc. It took a whole world effort to ban CFCs – every country and every industry – and we went, for example, from spray cans to roll-on deodorant pretty quick smart.

“The Montreal Protocol banned CFCs and was the world’s first universal agreement to cooperate on behalf of global human health. Kofi Annan said it was a great sign of hope that the world could be civilised enough to do the same for climate change; estimates say it’s already saved many more than 280 million lives.

“What this new paper is saying is that the hole in the ozone layer, predicted to be completely repaired by around 2060, has a whole section that’s not repairing itself. And they want to know why!

“The section in question is about 20 kms above Earth, between the tops of clouds and the height where aeroplanes cruise, and extends from just outside the Arctic circle to the start of Antarctica.

“Even though the polar regions and the higher stratospheric levels of ozone are repairing themselves, this lower, middle section is going in the opposite direction – the amount of ozone is still falling just like it was before the Montreal Protocol.

“A million things could be causing this, some natural, some not. But this paper tries with all its might to get around a host of past problems to see the real trend – and the ozone is definitely falling in that region, even after seasonal, time series and measurement adjustments.

“After eliminating the obvious, they’re still left with some disturbing possibilities: did we underestimate the anthropogenic effect, the volcanic effect, or is there some missing chemistry?

“What they propose are three explanations related to climate change: firstly, an expanded troposphere; secondly, an accelerating Brewer-Dobson circulation; or thirdly, a disproportionate acceleration of it closer to the tropopause. In other words, the ozone is being transported out of this section faster.

“If so, it’s a worry because it means the actual repair might be due to more rapid accumulation in the higher stratosphere, rendering the Montreal Protocol targets perhaps too lax from the beginning, that is, unless the higher stratosphere is actually doing the lion’s share of protecting us from UV radiation.

“This paper suggests climate change is interfering with the ozone system as well, creating a scenario where the Montreal Protocol, although still necessary, might not yet be sufficient, for repair by 2060.”

Ian Rae, honorary Professor at the Univesity of Melbourne, said:

“We know that the worst ozone-depleting substances are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other volatile chemicals containing chlorine or bromine. Emissions of these substances have been drastically reduced by international agreement, under the Montreal Protocol, to ban or restrict their production and consumption. As a result (we’d like to believe), the decline in the stratospheric ozone concentration has been arrested and there are some signs of recovery.

“However, given the steep decline in emissions, we might have expected a better result for the ozone layer. This analysis of research results, published by an international group of scientists, help us to understand why we haven’t. In short, the outcome is a curate’s egg: good in parts.

“Measurements of ozone concentration are made for a notional column of air stretching up from about 10 km above earth’s surface to about 50 km. As an aside, it helps to use round numbers to convey the message because there are variations with seasons and with latitude – position on the earth.

“For the column as a whole, there has not been much change in ozone concentration during the period 1998-2016. When results for ‘slices’ of the air in that column were examined, a more complex picture emerged. In the upper stratosphere (32-48 km), there has been a steady increase in ozone concentration, which is what was expected from the actions taken under the Montreal Protocol.

“However, in a lower slice of the air column(13-24 km), there has been a continuous decline. The reasons for this decline remain unknown. Unlike the positive change at higher levels, this negative is not predicted by models of atmospheric chemistry.

“The result of their analysis is nicely summed up by the authors: “We find that the negative ozone trend within the lower stratosphere between 1998 and 2016 is the main reason why a statistically significant recovery in total column ozone has remained elusive.

“In colloquial language: if you add a positive change and a negative change, you get zero change.”

The post Ozone levels still decreasing away from poles – Expert Reaction appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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An article in the New Zealand Medical Journal has reflected on the lessons New Zealand can learn from the opioid epidemic in the United States.

Auckland City Hospital’s Dr Paul Morrow says that opioid drug misuse is increasing worldwide which puts New Zealand at risk of a similar drug death epidemic. He suggests an ‘early warning’ system combining information from coroners, pathologists and emergency departments.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the article.

Dr Jeremy McMinn, Consultant Psychiatrist and Addiction Specialist, comments:

“An early warning system designed to trigger a rapid public health response sounds good in principle. It could be conceived as a feedback loop in a system waiting in readiness to respond quickly and flexibly to a new threat.

“If this is a priority, it suggests we are already sufficiently good at responding to the more substantial known threats. This is not the case.

“Despite our efforts, the evidence suggests we have not stemmed New Zealand’s steadily increasing prescription of potent opioids. We are slow to learn the lessons from abroad, unthinkingly accepting Oxycodone into our prescribing despite over a decade of warning signs from the US. We are behind the Australians in making steps to restrict our rising codeine use, when this has been an obvious step for the last 5 years.

“We can have no confidence we have made headway with the 1000 deaths per year directly attributable to alcohol. We allow our suicide rates to rise, knowing the crucial part alcohol plays in so many.

“There are obvious ways crying out already to reduce drug harms, but left undone. Let’s pay attention to what we already know needs to be done.”

Dr Paul Quigley, emergency medicine specialist, Wellington Hospital, comments:

“This is very interesting work, though already very well-known information. The ‘opioid crisis’ has dominated international conferences for the last 2 – 3 years and is regarded amongst the Drug and Alcohol community as the leading prescribing-based problem of the 2000s.

“Opiate-related presentation is very variable throughout New Zealand and is proportional to the prevalence of users in the community and the level of access to opiate treatment programs. In Wellington, for example, it is very rare for us to have opiate over-dose presentations, Auckland has more.

“However, it is very important not to confuse the issue with casual recreational drug use and the rise of the new psychoactive substances.

“The opiate crisis overseas was almost completely created from prescription-based opiate addiction from doctors. The rapid rise of the prescribing of synthetic opiates like oxycodone for simple injuries without taking into account the potential for addiction led to the mass of prescription-based addiction.

“Then, particularly in the USA, knee-jerk prohibitive legislation after some high profile celebrity deaths aimed at preventing and penalising prescribers was done without also providing treatment services. For those users now cut-off from prescription opiates, it saw a huge swing from controlled use to street use. The rise was so great that the dealers struggled to provide enough heroin, morphine etc. and started substituting with Fentanyl. A very small dose goes a long way, but in naïve users leads to death.

“Currently, we have a very stable opiate-using community that has traditionally stuck with morphine or diverted methadone. There are, of course, oxycodone and other users but these remain small due to diligent prescribing practices and a strong position from the specialist colleges on the harms of opiates.

“As long as in New Zealand we continue to recognise that doctors are the biggest opiate drug dealers we will avoid many of these problems.

“Key elements are:

  • A united change to the language of pain relief. We cannot make you ‘pain-free’ (only an anaesthetic can do that) but we can make your pain manageable.
  • DHB- and MOH-led campaigns on safe prescribing both in hospital and on discharge. Limiting the accessibility of oxycodone and other synthetic opiates
  • College-based programs of a similar nature especially the support of the College of GPs.
  • Diligent management of restricted prescribing and dangerous drugs scripts through Medsafe and pharmacies.
  • Providing robust and easily-accessible opiate treatment clinics such as methadone or suboxone for those who are already addicted.
  • Providing Naloxone to high-risk users and to the needle exchange clinics and first responders significantly reduces the risk of death related to opiates.

“As for early warning networks, they are invaluable for detecting changes in the drug market and for the dissemination of emergency information to first responders and enforcement agencies.

“New Zealand is actually quite a long way along this pathway and there has been a multi-sectorial working group on this topic for the last 18 months. The most significant delay we have had is actually just the timing of the election/change of government and the summer holidays.

“The Coroners of New Zealand have been a very pro-active group within this, seeking to accelerate the public health and warning component of drug-related deaths without compromising the legal and potential prosecution component of these cases. It must be noted that in some cases if the death has been due to the provision of an illegal substance, it may be referred back to the Police.

“There are a number of elements that need to be considered in making an early warning network, including how the information is actually shared and released:

  • What ‘harm index’ do we use? Illegal opiates crossing the border are all dangerous and would be ‘high’ on an alert index. But how about MDMA? Some would say that alerting to the presence of something like MDMA actually encourages drug use.
  • How is it notified? On a public website, on a secure website? What is the onus on public notification versus security?
  • What is done with the information? The recent synthetic cannabis issue highlighted the ‘conflict’ between the need for public good (health alert a bit like an infectious disease outbreak) and enforcement (it is already illegal, but a heavy Police presence drove the problem underground with patients unwilling to present).”

The post Lessons from the US opioid epidemic – Expert reaction appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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The Prime Minister has announced a proposed Child Poverty Reduction Bill, which would set in law targets to reduce child poverty.

Ten-year targets would include reducing the proportion of children living in low-income households and those in material hardship.

The SMC asked public health experts to comment on the proposed bill. 

Associate Professor Nikki Turner, Division of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland, comments:

“This proposed child poverty reduction bill is a hugely important first step towards progressing child poverty reduction and should not be understated in its significance. There is real hope that New Zealand may now take a broader coherent approach, underpinned by a government mechanism for measuring, monitoring and being held accountable.

“While previous governments have recognised the challenges and implemented a range of strategies, none has until now shown the courage or commitment to embed this in legislation and create accountability for poverty reduction outcomes. The result is that previous efforts, while often well-intentioned, have often been isolated or ad-hoc and as a result likely to have had less impact than if they had been part of an integrated plan.

“Does setting targets work? Evidence suggests that if targets are well chosen alongside clear lines of accountability, they can be highly effective for change. The targets recommended in this bill use multiple measures – income and material deprivation, and both depth and length of poverty. The combination of measures here is more likely to more accurately reflect progress across this complex multifactorial issue.

“Clearly, setting targets alone is not going to solve the problem. This is just the beginning of the work needed. Bill English said this has ‘no substance to address the drivers of deprivation’. His words will hold true if there is not a well-designed comprehensive approach taken at this point to action the intent. The best targets in the world even with accountability lines, will not hold without enough resourcing and a do-able plan.

“Will we see improvements in child health? As a frontline provider, it is very clear that effective health services matter – we learnt that with improving immunisation coverage. But alone, improving health services probably can only have a small effect on the poverty gradient in childhood hospitalisation and other important child health outcomes such as mental health.

“The action plan needs to be across the many facets of poverty – better family income, better housing, social cohesion, safer communities, drug and alcohol challenges etc. What I particularly would like to see in the detail is a clear focus on the poverty drivers that affect mental health, a huge need in our community that is going to take a lot more resourcing than any government to date has been willing to commit.

“Child poverty will not be cheap or easy to fix, we have generational damage to try and overcome, it will take tenacity, time and a whole lot of government commitment. Accountability and sensible measurables are an excellent first step, let’s watch closely and support a comprehensive, multifaceted plan of action.”

Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, Programme Director, He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme, University of Otago, comments:

“The Prime Minister’s commitment to reducing child poverty draws on the extensive research and in-depth policy discussions that led to the 2012 report of the Commissioner for Children’s Expert Advisory Group, Solutions to Child Poverty in New Zealand: Evidence for Action. This report was largely ignored at the time and little progress was made in the last five years on the fundamental causes of poverty such as rising housing costs, which were clearly identified in the report.

“The Government’s medium- and long-term targets announced this week are impressive on many levels. But exceptionally, they are evidence-informed and draw on the report and the extensive work of Bryan Perry in the Ministry of Social Development. Perry has highlighted over many years that there are different population groups who fall into the lowest income groups, depending on whether household income is considered before or after housing costs, or when material disadvantage (such as being cold in winter, or not being able to take a holiday) are considered. While all three measures are important, measuring income after housing costs shows that it is rising housing costs that are driving the increase in income inequality and have a flow-on impact to wealth inequalities.

“The measures highlighted in the speech directly tackle the quality of rental housing (e.g. through the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act) and increasing housing supply (raising the number of state houses, and the number of affordable new builds). The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have made their commitment to such policies clear. The strong research evidence is that if these policies are implemented effectively, by revitalising and refinancing organisations such as Housing NZ, these measures will directly improve the health of the rising proportion of children growing up in private rental accommodation and reduce the grave risk of their being hospitalised and dying prematurely.”

The post Child Poverty Reduction Bill – Expert Reaction appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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University of Otago researchers have just returned from one of New Zealand’s largest ice fields – the Gardens of Eden and Allah – which they say are melting quicker than usual due to the hot summer. 

The ice field straddles the Southern Alps and feeds into major rivers include the Rakaia and Rangitata in Canterbury and the Whanganui on the West Coast. But Associate Professor Nicolas Cullen and Dr Pascal Sirguey say the summer’s high temperatures have led to a “massive melt-off of snow”.

“Glaciers are in retreat and that is definitely linked to climate change,” Dr Cullen said. “Air temperature is a governing factor in the health of ice fields and glaciers as it controls melt and whether it rains or snows. As such, the changes in both the timing and volume of runoff from glaciers and seasonal snow will affect New Zealand’s hydropower generation, irrigation, and agriculture in the future.”

He said that while rainfall was the main input into river catchments, glacier meltwaters also played a part. “Water availability is set to become a major issue.:

The findings were covered by local media, including:

NZ Herald: South Island snow ‘melt-off’ in heat could affect power and irrigation
TVNZ: Scorching temperatures over 30C expected in South Island today, magnifying fire risk in Otago
Stuff.co.nz: Hot weather having massive impact on New Zealand’s ‘water tower’ glaciers
Radio NZ: “Massive snow melt” concerning: researchers

The post Hot summer causing early snow melt – In the News appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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Rocket Lab successfully launched its Electron rocket and deployed satellites into orbit this afternoon, a milestone for the company and New Zealand’s fledgling private space industry.

The SMC rounded up reaction from space and rocket experts. Feel free to use the comments below in your reports, or contact the experts directly to follow up for interviews.

Dr George Sowers, Independent consultant, former Chief Scientist and Vice-President of United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, comments:

“Very nice launch.  My heartiest congratulations to the Rocket Labs team. And I welcome New Zealand to the short list of countries with a successful launch system.

“After 30 years in the launch industry with hundreds of launches, each one is still a thrill. And I must say, the geographic setting of the launch pad is the most scenic in the world. The obvious excitement of the team is evidence of the huge amount of work and perseverance required to get into space.

“My personal feeling were similar when my rocket, the Atlas V, made its 75th successful launch yesterday (with no failures).”

Kris Walsh, Former project manager at United Launch Alliance and former director of all NASA launch programmes for Boeing, comments:

“It was wonderful to see such a smooth countdown, and a nominal launch.  When the web-cast shutdown, Electron Still Testing made orbit. I was unable to discern from the webcast if one or all three satellites were inserted into orbit.  It was

“This success should instill confidence in Rocket Lab’s customers, starting a busy 2018 launch schedule. The industry will be watching Rocket Lab’s ability to meet schedule, but this is a milestone for Rocket Lab.”

Professor Richard Easther, Professor of Physics (and Head of Department) at the University of Auckland, comments:

“This is a red-letter day for New Zealand; that was a flawless launch and a huge milestone for RocketLab. To put this in perspective, we are now one of just a dozen countries to have successfully built and deployed an rocket that can put satellites into orbit.

“The other countries in the club are either all world powers like the USA, Russia, China and India or smaller countries which are armed to the teeth — Israel, Iran and North Korea. So New Zealand really stands alone with a technically advanced, commercially focussed launch vehicle. And what we have seen today is really just the first chapter is what promises to be a fascinating story for the country and our technology and science sectors — I couldn’t be more excited.”

The post SMC Rocket Lab successful launch and payload deployment – Expert reaction appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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Stuff and the NZ Herald have both been running a series of environment stories this week, with Stuff focusing on ‘forgotten species’ and the Herald quizzing scientists on the environment.

Wrybill. Flickr CC/Wildlife Travel.

Stuff science and environment report Ged Cann’s ‘Forgotten Species’ series has challenged the idea that we’re doing well on conservation, instead highlighting five species that are threatened but aren’t given much airtime: black-billed gull, orange-fronted kākāriki, banded dotterel, Whitaker’s skink and the wrybill.

Research from Lincoln University suggests 70 per cent of the country feel that New Zealand’s native plants, animal and fish were doing well, which study co-author Ross Cullen says likely boils down to a focus on a dozen or so “charismatic species” like kākāpō and kiwi.

50 Questions on the Environment

NZ Herald science reporter Jamie Morton lined up five experts to answer 50 questions on the environment, including biosecurity, biodiversity and climate change.

Massey University freshwater ecologist Professor Russell Death discussed the state of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes, saying “it is pretty much as you hear reported in the news most days”.

“Things have got too bad now we have to start doing more truly effective actions, not having countless meetings to only decide that ‘it’s a real issue and we must do something’. Let’s just do what we know we should. We have most of the science clear; many people just don’t like the answers.”

On marine ecosystems, University of Auckland’s Professor Simon Thrush said while many marine birds and mammals range outside the areas of ocean under our direct control “that should not stop us reducing the stress on these species within our waters”.

“In the past humans have often considered the oceans an inexhaustible resource, we now know this is not true. But we cannot do this by ourselves and we need to be open to working on this collective problem – after all we are talking about seven tenths of the surface of planet Earth.”

The post Forgotten species and 50 environment questions – In the News appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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Australian hardware chain Bunnings has decided to stop selling neonicotinoid pesticides products in its Australian and New Zealand stores by the end of the year.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported the decision over the weekend, which the company said was based on studies that suggest neonicotinoid pesticides may be contributing to declining bee numbers. The decision followed a petition campaigning for Bunnings to pull the pesticides from its shelves, but the company said it had reached its decision independently of the petition.

Two studies, published last year in Science, based on large-scale field experiments found mixed results across European countries. At the time, Victoria University of Wellington insect ecologist Professor Phil Lester said while he hoped the Government acted on such studies, “I’d personally be disappointed if that action was anything other than evidence- and science-based”.

He said there were reports from the UK that growers were reverting to broad-spectrum pesticides “that are considered worse for the environment and mean they cannot grow certain crops”.

Lester told Radio NZ that over-the-counter neonicotinoid-containing products were used at a small scale in New Zealand, so the Bunnings ban would have little impact. “My guess is it will have minimal effect really in the wider scale of things. There are lots of crops around New Zealand that utilise neonicotinoids and it’s those big cropping systems that utilise much more and the use of the home handy-man, or home gardener will pale into insignificance in comparison.”

Mitre 10 has said it will review the sale of neonicotinoid pesticides, but as a scientific consensus had not been reached “we are guided by regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency and MPI”.

The post Neonicotinoid pesticides to be pulled from some NZ shelves – In the News appeared first on Science Media Centre.

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