John Kerr

John Kerr is a PhD student researching public attitudes towards science in the School of Psychology at Victoria University Wellington. He was a Media Advisor at the Science Media Centre for five years and has several years experience in both laboratory research and academic publishing.

What a hoot! Cheeky kea ‘laughter’ sets off playful antics - News

Mar 21, 2017

A warbling kea squawk has been shown to trigger playful behaviour in the cheeky native parrot, which researchers have compared to laughter in humans. Kea are playful birds. They perform aerial acrobatics, chase each other through the air and have jostling play-fights on the ground.  Researchers noticed that in the midst of such behaviour kea screech a particular ‘play call.’ After documenting these calls and their connection with the birds’ play behaviour, Dr Raoul Schwing and his colleagues got to thinking: how would kea in the wild would respond to recorded play calls? The authors detail their surprising results in a new article published today in the journal Current Biology. “We were able to use a playback of these calls to show that it animates kea that were not playing to do so,” reports Schwing, who undertook the study as part of his PhD research at the University … Read More

Nose evolution shaped by climate - Guest Work

Mar 17, 2017

Your nose looks the way it does thanks, in part, to the climate where your ancient ancestors lived, finds new research. The new study, published today in PLOS Genetics, explores the evolutionary history of the nose, focusing on one specific question: “Has climate adaptation played an important role in influencing variation in human nose shape?” The human nose conditions the temperature and humidity of the air we breathe, so it is not a stretch to imagine that environment and natural selection may have played a hand in guiding its evolution in different populations, much like skin colour. Deconstructing the nose The researchers, led by Arslan Zaidi from Pennsylvania State University, collected over 2,500 3D scans of noses from around the world.  Using these scans, the researchers calculated a range of measures to define nose shapes. They also collected genetic and self-reported ancestry … Read More

Bacteria hitch a ride on raindrop spray - News

Mar 09, 2017

New research reveals how raindrops on soil create bioaerosols – tiny droplets of bacteria-laden water – which can help spread harmful microbes, including kiwifruit pathogen Psa. Although soil bacteria are usually pretty slow at getting around, wet weather has been suggested to give them a hand travelling large distances. But exactly how rain gets bacteria from the soil into the air has been something of a mystery – until now. New research, published today in the journal Nature Communications, painstakingly details the exact mechanism that allows bacteria to get airborne with the help of rain. Using high-resolution imaging, Cullen Buie and colleagues from MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering tracked the fine mist released by a fizz of bubbles created when a drop of water hits soil. The researchers found that the tiny droplets in this mist carried up to several thousand bacteria … Read More

De-extinction dilemma: Bring back the moa or save the kiwi? - News

Feb 28, 2017

Adding previously-extinct species to our conservation checklist will strain already tight conservation budgets, say a team of New Zealand and Australian scientists. Little Bush Moa, Anomalopteryx didiformis. © Te Papa. De-extinction – resurrecting extinct species with the help of modern technology – has been largely confined to the realms of sci-fi. But now technology is catching up with the fantasy. Just a couple of years ago Labour MP Trevor Mallard was widely mocked for his “absolutely serious” suggestion that we could reintroduce the moa to forests on the outskirts of Wellington. Mallard’s idea was treated as a bit of a political joke at the time, but government may soon have to give due consideration to such proposals and weigh up the cost and benefits of bringing back New Zealand’s lost species. Conservation costs The idea that we could bring … Read More

New Zealand science looks to the future – Sciblogs Horizon Scan - News

Feb 20, 2017

Pandemics, predators and predicting sea-level rise are just a few of the issues covered in our Sciblogs Horizon Scan special series. We asked experts across the spectrum of New Zealand science to give us their take on the big issues in their field and what might be around the corner. What does the future hold in store for New Zealand science? What are the big issues our small, isolated country will face in a world of accelerating change? You can get the full lowdown on the series in this introductory post from Sciblogs Editor Peter Griffin, and see a collection of earlier posts here. Here’s a wrap-up of the latest posts in the summer series. Get ready for CRISPR conservation Helen Taylor takes a look at the amazing possibilities gene editing offers conservationists. Could we … Read More

What’s around the corner? Sciblogs Horizon Scan - News

Jan 30, 2017

What does the future hold in store for New Zealand science? What are the big issues our small, isolated country will face in a world of accelerating change? Over last two weeks we’ve seen some excellent commentary from New Zealand researchers contributing to our Sciblogs Horizon Scan special series. We asked experts across the spectrum of New Zealand science to give us their take on the big issues in their field and what might be around the corner. You can get the full lowdown in this introductory post from Sciblogs Editor Peter Griffin. Population demographics, artificial intelligence and forest health are just a few of the subjects covered in this ‘sneak peek’ over the horizon. Here’s a wrap up of what we’ve seen thus far (and there’s more to come…): The Sciblogs Horizon Scan The “Great Acceleration” is … Read More

The Science of Christmas - News

Dec 18, 2016

As the big day approaches, there is no shortage of scientists turning their inquisitive minds to the mysteries of Christmas. In the spirit of the festive season, Sciblogs brings you a tinsel entwined ‘wrap-up’ of Noel-related research. Naughty or nice? Not so important for Santa Santa pays a visit to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. Source: BelfastLive. To kick off, new (real) research published in the BMJ dispels the myth that Santa Claus rewards children based on how nice or naughty they have been in the previous year. Researchers surveyed every UK hospital with a paediatric ward to find out if ‘Santa’ had visited during Christmas 2015. They then correlated this with rates of absenteeism from primary school, conviction rates in young people (aged 10-17 years), distance from hospital to North Pole (as the reindeer flies), … Read More

Book review: What’s so controversial about genetically modified food? - Scibooks

Dec 11, 2016

John T Lang’s new book tackles a tough question: What’s so controversial about genetically modified food? The answer is: It’s complicated. While far from satisfying, this conclusion isn’t a cop out. The staggering complexity of our modern food systems is a returning theme in Lang’s small treatise on genetic modification (GM) and food. His observations and insights are certainly timely. Here in New Zealand, our current stance on genetically modified crops is increasingly questioned. A better understanding of how business, law and the public collide over this issue is more than welcome. A sociologist by trade, Lang does an excellent job of reviewing how a handful of multinational agritech companies, patent law and international trade all jumble into an incredibly messy, globe-spanning tangle. It is a system that no one person – let alone a 180 … Read More

Local extinctions: Climate change’s vanishing trick - News

Dec 09, 2016

Now you see them, now you don’t. Hundreds of species have already undergone ‘local extinctions’ because of climate change, according to new a study. As overall temperatures increase around the world thanks to climate change, plants and animals are starting to shift their geographic range closer to the cooler poles of the planet, or higher up the slopes of mountains. The results are small scale ‘local extinctions’ – where a species cannot be found an area where it once lived, but has not been wiped out completely. To get a handle on just how widespread these local extinctions are, Prof John Wiens from the University of Arizona has trawled through the published literature pulling together all the available studies examining climate-related shifts in species range. His results, published today in the journal PLOS ONE, capture data from 27 … Read More

Science in NZ: How are we doing? - News

Nov 30, 2016

A ‘big picture’ report on the New Zealand science system shows Kiwis are pretty good at publishing top-notch research and collaborating with scientists overseas, but there is room for improvement on our business R&D spending.  The 2016 Science and Innovation System Performance Report was released yesterday by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). The report aims to give policy-makers, academics and the public a solid steer on how the New Zealand science system is performing. “This report provides us with a performance benchmark against other OECD countries including the other small advanced economies – Israel, Switzerland, Singapore, Finland, Ireland and Denmark,” said Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce in a media release announcing the report. “The report increases transparency by showing how public funding for science and innovation is being invested, and it begins to give a direct line-of-sight to … Read More