Erica Mather

Erica has a Bachelor's degree in Biochemistry and a Postgraduate Certificate in Science Communication. She has a passion for knowledge and discovery and a drive to communicate emerging science stories to wider audiences.

Flotsam and jetsam: microplastics amass on NZ shores - News

May 10, 2016

The New Zealand shoreline is being clogged with microplastics.  A new study by the University of Canterbury reveals that the high quantities of microplastics found in coastal environments is comparable to levels identified overseas, which is surprising given New Zealand’s geographical isolation. Microplastics are small plastic particles less than 5mm in size that are found in exfoliant facial scrubs and toothpaste, or originate as larger plastic waste.  The increasing accumulation of microplastics on coastlines is a problem globally as they are slow to breakdown (years to decades).  Their prevalence poses risks for aquatic wildlife as they are easily mistaken for food and ingested by birds, fish and plankton – causing serious internal damage.  Microplastics can also absorb high concentrations of harmful pollutants such as DDT, which can be passed up through the food chain to humans. The study, published … Read More

Shallowest slow-motion earthquake recorded off NZ - News

May 06, 2016

BREAKING: Scientists from New Zealand and overseas have recorded a slow-motion earthquake below the seafloor off the coast of Gisborne. This unprecedented study contributes crucial information to the understanding of earthquake and tsunami risk for New Zealand and worldwide. For the first time, scientists have recorded detailed, centimeter-level movement beneath the seafloor in area called the Hikurangi subduction zone. The study demonstrates that slow-motion earthquakes or ‘slow-slip events’ can occur in the shallow region of faults that also have the potential to produce significant, tsunami-generating earthquakes. This sheds light on the relationship between slow-slip events and regular earthquakes by showing that these two events can occur on the same part of the plate boundary. The findings, published in the prestigious journal Science, describe how scientists from New Zealand, Japan and the US used a network of seafloor pressure recorders … Read More

Norovirus: culprit for gastroenteritis in NZ and worldwide - News

May 04, 2016

The widely reported gastroenteritis outbreak in NZ and Australia in 2013-14 has been traced to a single strain of norovirus that emerged in 2012 in Sydney. Norovirus is a ubiquitous virus found throughout low to high income countries. The virus is incredibly common, causing vomiting and diarrhea especially in young children from low income countries. Norovirus is responsible for over 200,000 deaths and carries a $60 billion burden each year globally. “Norovirus is the most common cause of diarrheal episodes globally, the principal cause of foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States, a key health care–acquired infection, a common cause of travel-associated diarrhea, and a bane for deployed military troops.” Benjamin A. Lopman et al. Currently there is no specific treatment available for norovirus, other than supportive treatment for the resulting dehydration. Symptoms in otherwise healthy adults last for … Read More

Robotics Championships: NZ named world champions - News

Apr 29, 2016

New Zealand competed at the VEX Robotics World Championships held in Louisville last week and are world champions for the eighth year running. The VEX Worlds provides the opportunity for the hard work and dedication of a growing community of robotics teams to be recognised.  The competition requires students in small teams, with guidance from their teachers, to design and build innovative robots to solve a game challenge that is presented each year.  Teams compete in qualification matches, elimination matches, programming and driver-controlled skills challenges at local levels in order to qualify for the VEX Worlds. The Auckland high school team from Lynfield College followed in Glenfield College’s footsteps by clinching the High School Excellence Award, making it the second year in row that New Zealand has returned with the title.  Lynfield College joined only eight other groups that performed … Read More

Re-examining the therapeutic potential of LSD - News

Apr 20, 2016

Humans have paired psychedelic drugs with music to alter their consciousness for millennia. Retro psychiatric therapies actually made patients listen to music while high on LSD and now scientists from New Zealand and Europe have found that these therapies weren’t so outrageous after all. Despite the lack of formal investigation, music has been considered essential for psychedelic psychotherapy as it results in ‘therapeutically meaningful thoughts, emotions and imagery.’ The synergy between music and the drug involves an underlying mechanism that was explored in this recent study, published in European Neuropsychopharmacology. Twelve healthy volunteers were tested under separate conditions: one where they were administered LSD intravenously and another where they were administered a placebo. Volunteers were then monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as they lay down with their eyes closed while listening to music, or in silence. ( … Read More

Bone of contention: Osteoporosis supplements under scrutiny - News

Dec 11, 2015

Popping pills for ‘better bone health’?  Think again.  There is blind enthusiasm to take calcium and vitamin D for the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis, despite mounting evidence that contradicts their effectiveness.  You are not alone if your last family photograph left you wondering if you are shrinking, particularly if you are over 60.  In New Zealand, 50% of women and 30% of men over 60 are affected by osteoporosis.  Many older adults are advised to take calcium and vitamin D supplements to prevent bone fracture, especially as dietary calcium is inadequate in most countries.  We rely on absorbing calcium from our diets because our bodies do not produce calcium.  However, absorption is affected by a number of factors including the presence of other vitamins (especially vitamin D), … Read More

Argentine ants harbour novel virus - News

Sep 15, 2015

A New Zealand study confirms that Argentine ants are hosts of a virus that is associated with honeybee deaths.  The ants were discovered to also carry a previously undescribed virus, one that could trigger their own demise. Argentine ants (Linepthema humile) are considered one of the six most invasive and damaging ant species in the world.  Large colonies can be found throughout New Zealand and there are similarly abundant and widespread populations on every continent except Antarctica.  These pesky ants are a household nuisance and their negative impact on crops has been recognised.  However, Argentine ants present a more significant problem: they are carriers of disease. Researchers from Victoria University of Wellington and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) collaborated on a three year project – to collect and analyse genomic data from Argentine ant … Read More

Plastic oceans, plastic diets: The unsavoury reality for seabirds - News

Sep 02, 2015

A new study predicts that 99 per cent of the world’s seabirds will consume plastic by 2050.  Seabirds easily mistake brightly coloured plastics for food or accidentally swallow pieces such as bottle caps, bags and fibres from synthetic clothing that have washed out to sea from waste deposits, sewers and rivers. Scientists from CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and Imperial College London investigated the extent to which seabirds are affected by plastic waste.  The majority of seabird species, including albatross, shearwaters and penguins were found to have plastic in their guts.  At present, 90 per cent of all seabirds are estimated to be affected. Plastic is so durable that it fails to degrade completely without exposure to UV light or bacterial activity.  For years and even centuries, plastic accumulates in the ocean – a … Read More

Forest health reliant on global biosecurity strategy - News

Aug 31, 2015

Insects and microbial pathogens pose an increasing threat to planted forests worldwide.  Without urgent action, the long-term sustainability of all planted forests will be imperilled. Dr Eckehard Brockerhoff and colleagues, authors of a review published in Science, urgently call for a coordinated, global approach in order to protect these valuable resources. Wealthy countries have designed effective strategies to combat this problem however these strategies fail to prevent pest invasions in other regions, culminating in worldwide impacts. The planted forest industry in New Zealand is the third largest export earner, contributing $5 billion a year to the economy.  Forests worldwide are not only economically valuable, but are also essential for regulating the climate, storing carbon and preventing erosion.  Forests improve water and air quality, and provide food for at least one in six people globally.  However, a significant number … Read More

Researchers worldwide team up to tackle the plight of honeybees - News

Aug 25, 2015

Although many of us first think of honeybees as wondrous honey-makers, their most essential role is the pollination of crops. Sadly, honeybees worldwide are under serious threat. International researchers are employing the technology of micro-sensors to find out exactly why. As a result of their evolutionary success and their significance in human food production, the European honeybee (Apis mellifera) is termed a super-species. We rely on honeybees for the pollination of one third of the food we eat. This includes fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts and oils. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), has established the Global Initiative for Honeybee Health – a large international team of researchers, beekeepers, farmers, industry and technology companies. This collaboration attempts to uncover what is harming bees and how best to combat these problems, thereby securing crop pollination. Healthy … Read More