Guest Author

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.

How snake fangs evolved to perfectly fit their food - Hot off the press

May 14, 2021

Silke Cleuren, Monash University; Alistair Evans, Monash University, and David Hocking, Monash University   Few structures in nature inspire more fear and fascination than the fangs of venomous snakes. These needle-like teeth are used by snakes to pierce their prey and inject deadly venom. With more than 3000 species of snake inhabiting our world, we wondered: are all their fangs the same? Or are their fangs differently shaped depending on what they eat, as we find in other animal groups? To uncover the answer, we examined the three-dimensional shape of snake fangs in 81 species and found that fangs have indeed evolved to suit the snake’s preferred prey, from hard-shelled crabs to furry mammals. Our results are published in the journal Evolution. Differences across snake families Venomous snakes are found all over the world and belong to five big … Read More

NZ Budget 2021: we need the arts to live, but artists need to earn a living - News

May 13, 2021

Mark Harvey, University of Auckland   It seems unlikely the arts will be a priority in the government’s May 20 budget. With housing affordability, climate change and child poverty all urgent issues, arts funding might not be seen as equally important. I argue it is — for two main reasons: it makes economic sense, and it is also essential to our health and well-being in myriad ways. The two are, of course, interrelated. Despite the wider arts sector accounting for up to 7% of the total workforce, it receives a disproportionately small proportion of overall government spending. Last year, arts, culture and heritage were given just 0.33% of the total 2020 Budget and COVID-19 Recovery package (NZ$374 million out of $112.1 billion). This was an increase on previous years, but still miniscule compared with other sectors. And yet the … Read More

When the Line Between Life and Death Is ‘A Little Bit Fuzzy’ - Guest Work

May 13, 2021

May 10, 2021 by Lola Butcher   Until Sept. 17, 2020, Sharon Frederick was an ostensibly healthy 63-year-old woman who spent her days caring for her disabled sister and going to church. That evening, she was praying the rosary over the telephone with a friend when she began slurring her words. By the time an ambulance delivered her to St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica, New York, Frederick was comatose after suffering a massive stroke. Four days later, a physician declared her to be brain dead, and a death certificate was filed. Before she fell ill, however, Frederick had appointed two friends to act on her behalf if she were ever unable to make her own health care decisions. Her friends protested the diagnosis by filing a lawsuit that sought to void the death certificate and require the … Read More

Despite major conservation efforts, populations of New Zealand’s iconic kiwi are more vulnerable than people realise - Hot off the press

May 13, 2021

Isabel Castro, Massey University   Kiwi are moved between populations to lower the risk of inbreeding. Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust, CC BY-SA Like many endangered species, Aotearoa’s flightless and nocturnal kiwi survive only in small, fragmented and isolated populations. This leads to inbreeding and, eventually, inbreeding depression — reduced survival and fertility of offspring. Mixing kiwi from different populations seems a good idea to prevent such a fate. But translocating kiwi in an effort to mate birds that are not closely related can come with the opposite risk of outbreeding. This happens when genetically distant birds breed but produce chicks with lower fitness than either parent. Translocations have been part of the kiwi conservation effort for decades. We also have many genetic studies of the five species of kiwi in New Zealand. But our research, which synthesised … Read More

The outlook for coral reefs remains grim unless we cut emissions fast — new research - The Changing Climate

May 11, 2021

Christopher Cornwall, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and Verena Schoepf, University of Amsterdam   The twin stress factors of ocean warming and acidification increasingly threaten coral reefs worldwide, but relatively little is known about how various climate scenarios will affect coral reef growth rates. Our research, published today, paints a grim picture. We estimate that even under the most optimistic emissions scenarios, we’ll see dramatic reductions in coral reef growth globally. The good news is that 63% of all reefs in this emissions scenario will still be able to grow by 2100. But if emissions continue to rise unabated, we predict 94% of coral reefs globally will be eroding by 2050. Even under an intermediate emissions scenario, we project a worst-case outcome in which coral reefs on average will no longer be able to grow vertically … Read More

Flights have resumed between New Zealand and NSW, but the temporary travel pause may not be the last - COVID-19

May 11, 2021

Michael Plank, University of Canterbury and Andrew Chen, University of Auckland   New Zealand has resumed quarantine-free travel with New South Wales today, even though the Australian state’s government has extended restrictions in greater Sydney for another week. From New Zealand’s perspective, the fact no further community cases have been discovered gives us confidence we’re not overlooking a large hidden outbreak after all. While a few cases might trickle in over the days ahead, provided these are linked to the cluster, they shouldn’t lead to another pause in travel.   This morning’s restart of the travel-bubble with New South Wales has the thumbs up from an expert in disease spread modelling, who says the pause was wise, and it’s now time to go ahead. https://t.co/NX7G9OaaWB — RNZ (@radionz) May 9, 2021 … Read More

Taking one for the team: 6 ways our cells can die and help fight infectious disease - Guest Work

May 10, 2021

Georgia Atkin-Smith, La Trobe University and Ivan Poon, La Trobe University We have all heard of COVID-19, the flu and bacterial infections. But what is actually happening to our cells when we contract these diseases? Many of our body’s cells don’t live to tell the tale. But cell death isn’t necessarily a bad thing — in fact, the death of infected cells can provide a sacrificial mechanism to stop pathogens in their tracks before they can spread through our body. Over the years, researchers have realised there are many ways for our cells to die. Our genetics contain a comprehensive “licence to die”, with the route to cell death dictated by both the type of the cell and the pathogen. Let’s check some out: The dancing death In the time it takes you to read this sentence, ten million cells … Read More

Farewell the utopian city. To cope with climate change we must learn from how nature adapts - Guest Work

May 07, 2021

Mohammed Makki, University of Technology Sydney   “Among all species, it is perhaps only humans who create habitats that are not fit to live in.” – Stephen Marshall It’s a damning statement but one that can be reasonably argued to be true. We don’t have the best track record in creating lasting and sustainable habitats, especially if one considers cities built in the past century. The next 50 years will demand a new model of urban development. For a more sustainable future in a world of climate change, 21st-century cities must be based on models of adaptation that learn from natural systems. We now have the digital modelling technology to design such cities, rather than the fixed urban form that now dominates our world. The legacy of cities built for cars We are witnessing firsthand the destructive impact … Read More

Why we should take a women-centred approach to diagnosing and treating iron deficiency - Hot off the press

May 07, 2021

Claire Badenhorst, Massey University Iron deficiency is a common nutritional disorder worldwide, and pre-menopausal women are most at risk of being diagnosed with it. New Zealand’s most recent nutritional survey (from 2008/09) shows 12% of women may suffer from iron deficiency. But more recent research in New Zealand suggests up to 55% of women of a similar age but of various ethnicities (Caucasian, Middle Eastern and South Asian) present with depleted iron levels. This higher incidence of iron deficiency in women is often explained as a result of blood loss during menstruation. But my research, which analyses the iron status of athletic and active women, suggests female physiology has evolved to counter iron loss through complex interactions between female reproductive hormones and the hormone that influences iron regulation. The research shows variations in iron status during … Read More

Selling a buffalo for a brain scan: India’s COVID-19 crisis reveals deep fractures in its health system - News

May 06, 2021

Kaaren Mathias, University of Canterbury As India’s COVID-19 crisis continues, the percentage of the population testing positive for the virus has grown from 4.2% to 18.4% in the past 30 days. With more than 300,000 new cases reported each day, hospitals and crematoria face collapse. Global media have been awash with heartbreaking images, statistics and stories showing the failure of the country’s health system in the face of surging infections and deaths. The fracture lines in India’s health system have been developing for years. After decades of under-investment in healthcare and preventative health, India has one of the most privatised health systems in the world. As a consequence, healthcare costs are a leading cause of poverty. As my recent research into rural mental health services shows, patients are caught between the under-resourced public sector and the … Read More