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.

Diabetic heart disease: Perpetrator identified - News

Aug 13, 2015

Researchers from the University of Otago have identified a key protein which triggers heart disease in people with diabetes.  Their results pave the way for future development of new therapies to combat the cardiovascular complications in diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic illness that currently affects 380 million people worldwide and this is expected to double by 2035.  Over 50 New Zealanders are diagnosed every day. The leading cause of death in people with diabetes is heart disease.  Up until now, the reason for this association has been a mystery.  The study, published in the International Journal of Cardiology, explains why the cells of diabetic hearts have alterations in their behaviour that begin even before cardiovascular symptoms appear. Dr Rajesh Katare and colleagues discovered that autophagy, a normal process involving the destruction of defunct cellular components, occurs at … Read More

Hearing healthcare in NZ’s future - News

Aug 11, 2015

It has been well established that New Zealand’s population is aging. Studies have been conducted to assess the impact of the increasing incidence of chronic illnesses on healthcare services, but the burden of hearing loss has been overlooked. A greater proportion of the New Zealand’s population is living longer, meaning that centrally-funded health and social resources are being put under increasing pressure. In 1951, the median age was 29; in 2011-12 it was 37 and it is predicted to increase to 44 years by 2061. The impact of an aging society on hearing healthcare has not yet been addressed.  According to recent research by Daniel Exeter and colleagues, the number of New Zealanders with some degree of hearing impairment is expected to increase significantly in the next 50 years.  The study, published in the New Zealand Medical … Read More

Parasites hijack flowers – Chief pollinators at risk - News

Aug 06, 2015

The spread of bee parasites has been found to be mediated by flowers, according to new research from the UK.  Infected bees deposit parasites onto flowers as they forage.  The parasites are then dispersed by other bees that visit the same flowers, and even spread between bee species.  These results reveal flowers to be ‘hotspots’ of pathogen dispersal, aiding the spread of harmful diseases to pollinators. Landing on flowers to gather pollen and nectar is a risky business for bees.  A relationship that could not have seemed more symbiotic is now shown to be otherwise, and parasites are to blame. The substantial population decline of several pollinator species is sparking great interest in the stress factors that are affecting them, including parasites.  The emergence of the Varroa mite has been associated with honeybee colony loss in many countries.  … Read More

Aquatic organisms inspire the development of ingenious sunscreen - News

Jul 31, 2015

A newly designed sunscreen has harnessed the biological strategies that aquatic organisms evolved to prevent the negative effect of UV radiations.  Despite being made from fish mucus, crustacean shells and fungi, the sunscreen is more effective than current products and can be applied to skin as well as your backyard furniture. There is an urgent need to create new sunscreens that are an improvement on the currently used UV-protective products.  Existing options are made from a combination of synthetic and natural compounds that can be unstable and do not provide full protection against both UV-A and UV-B.  They also pose a threat to the environment and human health with long-term use. Professor Vincent Bulone and colleagues exploited the UV-absorbing properties of small compounds – ‘molecular sunscreens’ isolated from algae, microorganisms and the mucus and lenses of reef fish.  These compounds, … Read More

Climate change action could be thwarted by ambivalence - News

Jul 30, 2015

A new multi-national study has analysed a number of contributing factors for their impact on the way climate change is interpreted across the globe.  Public awareness and risk perception of climate change were found to be influenced by a combination of nation-specific aspects.  These findings highlight the need to develop better communication strategies that are tailored to individual nations. The existence of human-driven climate change and the threat it poses to ecosystems and societies worldwide has been well established by scientists.  However, research on public opinion shows that there is great variation in the awareness and concern of climate change across the globe.  Even in places such as Australia, Europe and America where the awareness of climate change is high, most don’t perceive it as a ‘serious threat’. Geographic patterns of climate change perceptions opinion poll in 2007–2008 … Read More

Mangroves: ‘Bioshields’ of our coastlines - News

Jul 27, 2015

The importance of mangroves in estuaries and river deltas has been highlighted in a new study. Vulnerable parts of the coast are protected from erosion by the mesh-like roots of mangroves that trap soil, buffering the impact of waves and tidal currents. New Zealand and UK scientists utilised data on the New Zealand mangrove (mānawa) in a new modelling system to predict the effects of sea level rise on different types of estuaries and river deltas.  The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A, found that areas where mangroves grow are less likely to erode in the same way as other vulnerable areas where mangroves are not found. “Surprisingly, our coastal landscape can actually keep pace with sea-level rise to a certain degree, by accumulating sediment at faster rate,” says Dr Bryan … Read More

Osteoporosis supplements: A bone of contention - News

Jul 23, 2015

Calcium and vitamin D continue to be hailed as effective supplements to treat and prevent osteoporosis, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, warn two New Zealand doctors.   They contend that blind enthusiasm for supplementation is being perpetuated by the vested interests of an insidious network of groups including industry, advocacy organisations and academia. Many older adults are advised to take calcium and vitamin D supplements to prevent bone fracture, especially as dietary calcium is deficient in most countries.  Supplementation has been promoted for many years – now more than half of older Americans take calcium and vitamin D supplements for their bone health. As the authors, Andrew Grey and Mark Bolland from the University of Auckland explain in the editorial featured in The BMJ, this behaviour goes against evidence, surfacing since 2002 that … Read More

Humpback whales spotted in record numbers - News

Jul 17, 2015

Delighted researchers and volunteers counted a record 137 whales during the Cook Strait Whale Survey completed this week.  This is the highest tally since the survey began in 2004 and suggests that their numbers are increasing in New Zealand waters. The annual four-week survey, run by DOC research in partnership with oil and gas company OMV New Zealand, is timed to coincide with the northern migration of humpback whales from Antarctica to the warmer South Pacific to breed. Researchers aim to estimate the population size of the humpback whale and determine whether they are recovering since the cessation of commercial whaling in 1964.  This will be ascertained by comparing their survey data to the records of whalers that hunted humpbacks in Cook Strait during the 1950s and early 1960s. “The higher number of humpback whales being seen indicates the New … Read More

The ‘mini Ice Age’ media sensation – and the reality - News

Jul 15, 2015

“Earth heading for ‘Little Ice Age’ in 15 years”, “The Little Ice Age cometh”, and the obligatory “Winter is coming”. They are just some of the headlines that have run around the world following a new analysis of sunspot cycles presented by Northumbria University’s Professor Valentina Zharkova at a conference organised by the Royal Astronomical Society. But as the Washington Post points out, the trending story wasn’t all that it seemed, with no mention by the scientists of a return to Little Ice Age conditions. “Instead, we got 300-year-old engravings of Londoners cavorting on the frozen River Thames accompanied by predictions of food shortages and brutal cold — plus snarky tweets about not worrying about global warming anymore,” wrote the Washington Post’s Sarah Kaplan. The context According to a new model by UK researchers, the activity of the Sun … Read More

Benefits of blackcurrants revealed - News

Jul 14, 2015

Convinced that smoothies really are a superfood?  You may not be imagining it if they contain blackcurrants. The berry, examined extensively by scientists at Plant & Food Research (NZ) and Northumbria University (UK), has been found to positively affect mental performance. The impressive results show, for the first time, an improvement in accuracy, attention and mood after independent consumption of two blackcurrant extracts. Blackcurrant bred by Plant and Food Research Only three other experimental studies on human subjects have tested the effects of berry consumption on behaviour, none of which assessed blackcurrants, instead favouring grapes and blueberries for their memory enhancing ability in aging adults.  A plethora of mainly epidemiological studies have touted numerous health benefits of blackcurrants, including the suppression of cancer, inflammation and cardiovascular diseases.  No other study has tested the … Read More