Guest Work

This is the Sciblogs guest blog, where we run science-related submissions from the Sciblogs community and beyond. Contact Sciblogs editor Peter Griffin about making a submission - or about hosting a blog on Sciblogs.

Our healthcare records outlive us. It’s time to decide what happens to the data once we’re gone. - Guest Work

Aug 07, 2017

By Jon Cornwall, Victoria University of Wellington Death is inevitable. The creation of healthcare records about every complaint and ailment we seek treatment for is also a near-certainty. Data about patients is a vital cog in the provision of efficient health services. Our study explores what happens to those healthcare records after you die. We focus on New Zealand’s legal situation and practices, but the issue is truly a global one. Previously, healthcare records were held in paper form and stored in an archive. Next came the advent of digital storage in on-site databases. In both of these cases, when you died your records were either shredded or erased, depending on the technology. But it is now increasingly common for healthcare records to be digitised and held in a central repository. They can potentially be held for … Read More

Solar is now the most popular form of new electricity generation worldwide - Guest Work

Aug 03, 2017

By Andrew Blakers, Australian National University Solar has become the world’s favourite new type of electricity generation, according to global data showing that more solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity is being installed than any other generation technology. Worldwide, some 73 gigawatts of net new solar PV capacity was installed in 2016. Wind energy came in second place (55GW), with coal relegated to third (52GW), followed by gas (37GW) and hydro (28GW).     Together, PV and wind represent 5.5% of current energy generation (as at the end of 2016), but crucially they constituted almost half of all net new generation capacity installed worldwide during last year. It is probable that construction of new coal power stations will decline, possibly quite rapidly, because PV and wind are now cost-competitive almost everywhere. Hydro is still important in developing … Read More

Climate change set to increase air pollution deaths by hundreds of thousands by 2100 - Guest Work

Aug 02, 2017

By Guang Zeng, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and Jason West, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill Climate change is set to increase the amount of ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution we breathe, which leads to lung disease, heart conditions, and stroke. Less rain and more heat means this pollution will stay in the air for longer, creating more health problems. Our research, published in Nature Climate Change, found that if climate change continues unabated, it will cause about 60,000 extra deaths globally each year by 2030, and 260,000 deaths annually by 2100, as a result of the impact of these changes on pollution. This is the most comprehensive study to date on the effects of climate change on global air quality and health. Researchers from the United States, the United … Read More

Huge drop in men’s sperm levels confirmed by new study – here are the facts - Guest Work

Jul 31, 2017

By Chris Barratt, University of Dundee Sperm count in men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand declined by 50-60% between 1973 and 2011, according to a new study from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Surprisingly, the study, which analysed data on the sperm counts of 42,935 men, found no decline in sperm counts in men from Asia, Africa and South America, although there was limited data from these areas. Overall, this is a very disturbing report. There has been a longstanding debate among scientists as to whether sperm counts have decreased or not. But what’s different about this study is the quality of the analysis. It was done in a systematic manner, accounting for several of the problems that had affected previous studies, such as the method used to count sperm and … Read More

Why are only some viruses transmissible by blood and how are they actually spread? - Guest Work

Jul 28, 2017

David Griffin, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Thomas Schulz, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity Since the 1980s, most of us have been aware we need to be careful when coming into contact with the blood of others, because some viruses can be transmitted in this way. But why is it only some viruses are transmissible by blood, and how does the virus actually move from person to person? Viruses are non-living, infectious agents that use our own cells to function and replicate. Unlike bacteria and fungi, they can’t do this on their own, and must find an appropriate host cell they can enter and replicate in. Blood-borne viruses are those found at levels that can be detected in an infected person’s blood. They can be passed from person to … Read More

Supreme Court ruling on NZ’s largest irrigation dam proposal respects conservation law and protected land - Guest Work

Jul 28, 2017

Christine Cheyne, Massey University Earlier this month, New Zealand’s Supreme Court rejected a proposed land swap that would have flooded conservation land for the construction of the country’s largest irrigation dam. The court was considering whether the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s investment arm could build a dam on 22 hectares of the protected Ruahine Forest Park in exchange for 170 hectares of private farm land. The proposed dam is part of the $900 million Ruataniwha water storage and irrigation scheme. The New Zealand government’s response to the ruling was to consider a law change to make land swaps easier. Such a move flies in the face of good governance. Natural capital vs development The Supreme Court ruling has significant implications for the Ruataniwha dam. In addition, it asserts the importance of permanent protection of high-value conservation … Read More

How does the hypothalamus control ageing? - Guest Work

Jul 28, 2017

Richard Faragher, University of Brighton If you are reading this and you don’t smoke, then your major risk factor for dying is probably your age. That’s because we have nearly eliminated mortality in early life, thanks to advances in science and engineering. But despite this progress, we still haven’t worked out how to eliminate the damaging effects of ageing itself. Now a new study in mice, published in Nature, reveals that stem cells (a type of cell that can develop into many other types) in a specific area of the brain regulate ageing. The team even managed to slow down and speed up the ageing process by transplanting or deleting stem cells in the region. The gap between generations is levelling out. The mechanisms that keep organisms healthy are relatively few in number and … Read More

What can go wrong in the blood? - Guest Work

Jul 27, 2017

Maher Gandhi, The University of Queensland and Huyen Tran, Monash University While blood is essential for human life, there are many things that can go wrong. And as it travels around the body and flows through every organ, problems in the blood can have wide-ranging implications for our health. There are countless problems that can occur in this vital fluid; here, we’ll have a look at the most common – bleeding disorders, clotting disorders and blood cancers. Bleeding disorders If our blood vessels are damaged in some way, the blood contains platelets and many clotting factors (or proteins) that will form a clot in order to stem blood loss from our veins. If the number or function of these platelets or clotting proteins is reduced, this will lead to a “bleeding disorder”. Platelets are produced … Read More

Why looking for aliens is good for society (even if there aren’t any) - Guest Work

Jul 27, 2017

Ian Crawford, UCL The search for life elsewhere in the universe is one of the most compelling aspects of modern science. Given its scientific importance, significant resources are devoted to this young science of astrobiology, ranging from rovers on Mars to telescopic observations of planets orbiting other stars. The holy grail of all this activity would be the actual discovery of alien life, and such a discovery would likely have profound scientific and philosophical implications. But extraterrestrial life has not yet been discovered, and for all we know may not even exist. Fortunately, even if alien life is never discovered, all is not lost: simply searching for it will yield valuable benefits for society. Why is this the case? First, astrobiology is inherently multidisciplinary. To search for aliens requires a grasp of, at least, astronomy, biology, … Read More

The next pharmaceutical revolution could be 3D bioprinted - Guest Work

Jul 26, 2017

Aurelien Forget, Queensland University of Technology and Tim Dargaville, Queensland University of Technology Body organs such as kidneys, livers and hearts are incredibly complex tissues. Each is made up of many different cell types, plus other components that give the organs their structure and allow them to function as we need them to. For 3D printed organs to work, they must mimic what happens naturally – both in terms of arrangement and serving a biological need. For example, a kidney must process and excrete waste in the form of urine. Our latest paper shows a new technique for 3D printing of cells and other biological materials as part of a single production process. It’s another step towards being able to print complex, living structures. But it’s not organ transplants we see as the most important … Read More