Alison Campbell

Senior University of Waikato biological sciences lecturer Dr Alison Campbell is well known in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty for promoting science to community groups and school students. She has been nicknamed the skull lady by secondary school students after her presentations on human evolution. Dr Campbell established Cafe Scientifique in Hamilton as part of an effort to encourage the community to discuss scientific issues. She has also launched BioBlog website to support secondary school biology students and teachers preparing for exams. That blog is syndicated right here on Sciblogs. Alison is on Twitter @AcampbelTeacher

trends in human evolution – the shoulder - BioBlog

Sep 07, 2021

Humans are the only living hominid that can throw objects accurately & at speed – while some of the other great apes can throw objects, their speed & accuracy is not the best. (In his musing on human evolution, Darwin noted that adaptations allowing this would be at a selective advantage as they would increase hunting effectiveness.) I found it interesting to look at why this is so – in both morphological & evolutionary terms – & because trends in human biological evolution are something year 13 biology students need to know about, I thought I’d write about it here. It turns out that the ability to throw forcefully & accurately has a great deal to do with the structure of what’s known as the pectoral girdle (the collarbone & shoulder blade, which together connect the upper limbs … Read More

what is the “magneto” protein, & why are references to a 2016 paper suddenly in my feed? - BioBlog

Jul 05, 2021

A few days back an article in The Guardian popped up in my newsfeed. It was quite old – published in 2016 – but it looked interesting, so I read it & also tracked down the original paper. The article & research paper describe work done to develop and test a potential tool for unpicking and understanding the neural mechanisms that underpin complex animal behaviour. In 2016 there were 2 existing tools for “remotely controlling” groups of related neurons (nerve cells): one – optogenetics – uses pulsed laser light, and the other – chemogenetics – uses GE proteins targeted to particular cells and turned on by specialised drugs. Optogenetics works on a millisecond time scale, but is invasive as optical fibres have to be surgically inserted into an animal’s brain. Chemogenetics is slower (in the order of … Read More

kary mullis, pcr, & covid tests - BioBlog

May 19, 2021

You’ve probably come across the name Kary Mullis recently, via social media. He’s best remembered for his invention (along with a team of other researchers) of the Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR for short (and for many biology students was probably immortalised in their memories via this earworm of an advertisement¹). This turned out to be a very powerful tool, often used in combination with genome sequencing, for medical researchers and other scientists. It’s been used for everything from determining paternity, forensic testing, ancient DNA (aDNA) work on human ancestors (and other species), obtaining enough DNA from a specific gene for research on genetic disorders, and more besides, including identifying the presence of SARS-Cov-2. If you’d like to learn more about the technique, there’s a good explanation here, and this teachers might find … Read More

covid-19 infection and how the spike protein is involved in doing harm - BioBlog

May 05, 2021

  Just this morning a journalist sent me a link to a press release about a new paper looking at how SARS-Cov-2 affects the vascular system, & asked to comment on it for a article. If you’d like to read the actual paper you can find it here, but be aware that it does get complex in places (it’s an in vivo study using hamsters as the host organism). I found it really interesting  – as the researchers say, it “could open the door for new research into more effective therapies.” The spike proteins are the structures projecting from the virus, and they’re what the immune system learns to recognise (and then attack). SARS-Cov-2 uses them to connect to host cells, before its genetic material is moved into the cell & used to force the cell to make … Read More

on Plan B’s support for an anti-vaccine court case - BioBlog

Apr 26, 2021

Some of my readers may be aware that Nelson lawyer Sue Grey is taking a case to the NZ High Court in an attempt to stop the roll-out of the Pfizer vaccine. I don’t agree with her stance, but she has every right to do this. However, I was more than a little surprised to see that one of the academics promoting “Plan B” as an alternative to the government’s current means of controlling the spread of SARS-Cov-2 in this country has provided an affidavit supporting this action. You can find this document on the public kti.org.nz website, as “Vaccine_Court Documents – Our land Our Water Our bodies”. I haven’t linked directly because my antiviral software didn’t like the page. (I find this … amusing.) Dr Thornley’s PhD research was into the statistical prediction of cardiovascular disease, and … Read More

sam bailey on isolating viruses, and why she is wrong - BioBlog

Apr 19, 2021

Recently I was told I needed to go to the Youtube channel of Dr Sam BaileyA and watch one of her videosB. So I did. This particular video is called The Truth About Virus Isolation, and yes it’s on Youtube, and no I’m not linking directly because I refuse to link to such a misleading channel. It’s ostensibly about the (lack of) isolation of the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Given that there have been a lot of papers published on this very topic, one might expect a discussion of what Bailey sees as their flaws – especially given her lead-in claim that “the scientific literature is a mess” – and at the very least reference to some of them. One would be mistaken. There is, however, a certain amount of shadeC: “I’m not sure if many virologists and scientists are aware of … Read More

why it’s important to check sources - BioBlog

Apr 17, 2021

While checking my spam folder (before yeeting the contents permanently) I noticed that I’d been sent a bunch of email ‘newsletters’ from the group “Voices for Freedom.” Out of interest I opened one, just in case the contents were worth a post or two – & indeed they were. The writers of the newsletter state that “And we take it further: we’re about sound science” and then a little further down the page claims “that there’s striking evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was around from at least 12 March 2019.(How do we know? Yes, we read the papers that experts write.)” They are, however, being a little disingenuous here. The link goes, not to a paper published in a journal, but to a pre-press server. I’ve highlighted the relevant bits from the top of the document. In … Read More

so much misinformation on a page supposedly about health - BioBlog

Apr 15, 2021

It’s always something of a shock to come across a page run by a health-focused business that contains substantial misinformation. This one left me gobsmacked, given the sheer number of statements that are demonstrably untrue. And while a fair bit of the content is prefaced by the statement that it’s the personal opinion of one individual, the fact that it’s carried prominently on the business’s webpage means that the business appears to support those views. The Covid-19 vaccines offered in NZ from this moment are no [sic] vaccines but a high risk first ever trial on humans of a GMO (gene modification) therapy. Just, no. The Pfizer BioNTech product is a vaccine: it stimulates an immune response to a pathogen (or more correctly, to an antigen from that pathogen) without your being exposed to the actual disease-causing organism. The … Read More

we haven’t taught critical thinking particularly well - BioBlog

Apr 14, 2021

  Yesterday I got told to “do some research” &, by extension, to think critically. The biologist in me cringed a little when I read it (and not because of the advice about doing research). Biology teachers I know suggested that perhaps everyone should take the NCEA standard that lets students learn about the basic genetics that this commenter got so very, very wrong. But personally I think that’s not really the issue, and it isn’t the fix either. This is because the relevant genetics content isn’t taught until students hit year 12, and sadly a lot of students (up to 60%, by some estimates) have decided not to continue with the sciences beyond year 10. That in itself is a problem that needs addressing, but it’s not my focus for this post. To me there are … Read More

evidence vs spin - BioBlog

Apr 14, 2021

A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of this blog post by New Zealand’s “Plan B” group. While initially this group opposed the government’s use of lockdowns to manage covid19 outbreaks in this country, they seem to have since moved on to opposing the rollout of vaccines against SARS-Cov-2. And, while they claim to be “injecting evidence into the vaccine spin,” on balance the spin is on their part¹. Why do I say this? Let me count the ways. The authors of this Plan B post, Simon Thornley & Gerhard Sundborn, describe the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as the least tested vaccine in living memory Least tested? The Phase III randomised controlled trial (RCT) for this vaccine involved 43,000 people – more participants than in pretty much any other vaccine RCT. For example, this large trial of Gardasil … Read More