Jean Balchin

Jean Balchin is an English Literature Honours student at the University of Otago, Dunedin. When she's not busy painting, playing the piano or writing essays on Robert Burns, you can find her curled up with a recently published book on science. Alternatively, she'll be bugging her flatmates about their recent findings.

DNA shows tiny tardigrades are just as cool as we thought - News

Jul 28, 2017

New genome sequences have revealed exciting new information about the origins of tardigrades as well as the genes that underlie their extraordinary ability to survive in extreme conditions.  A team of researchers led by Mark Blaxter and Kazuharu Arakawa from the universities of Edinburgh, Scotland and Keio, Japan respectively, have carefully stitched together the DNA code for two tardigrade species. What are tardigrades? Tardigrades (also known as water bears or moss piglets) are water-dwelling, eight-legged, segmented micro-animals.They were first discovered by the German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze in 1773. The name Tardigrada derives from the Italian word for “slow stepper”, and was given three years later by the Italian biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani. Tardigrades are famous for their amazing ability to withstand complete dehydration, resurrecting years later when water is again available. They can be desiccated, frozen, exposed to radiation or sent into space, and still they … Read More

Rise in e-cigarettes linked to rise in smokers quitting - News

Jul 27, 2017

The recent rise in e-cigarette use among US adult smokers is associated with a significant increase in smoking cessation, finds a study published today in The BMJ (The British Medical Journal).  Based on the largest representative sample of e-cigarette users to date, this study emphatically argues that e-cigarettes have helped to increase smoking cessation at the population level. What are e-cigarettes? Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes are handheld electronic devices that try to create a feeling like smoking tobacco. They work by heating a liquid to generate an aerosol, commonly called a “vapour”, that the user inhales. The liquid in the e-cigarette, is usually made of nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerine, and flavourings. Not all e-liquids however contain nicotine. The scientific community has not yet reached a consensus on whether e-cigarettes are an aid to quitting smoking. Some experts suggest that e-cigarettes will have a positive impact on smoking rates … Read More

Is it time to drop “complete the course” message for antibiotics? - News

Jul 27, 2017

The commonly held belief that patients should “complete the course” of antibiotics to avoid antibiotic resistance is not backed by evidence and should be dropped, argue experts in The BMJ (The British Medical Journal) today. According to Professor Martin Llewelyn at Brighton and Sussex Medical School and colleagues, patients are actually put at unnecessary risk from antibiotic resistance when treatment is given for longer than necessary, not when it is stopped early. It’s time for policy makers, educators, and doctors to drop this message and state that this was not evidence-based and is incorrect. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria Antibiotics, also known as antibacterials, are medications that destroy or slow down the growth of bacteria. They include a range of powerful drugs and are used to treat diseases caused by bacteria. “Antibiotics are vital to modern medicine” yet, “antibiotic resistance is a global, urgent threat to … Read More

What happens to our health records when we die? - News

Jul 21, 2017

Leaps and strides in digital data acquisition and storage has lead to the phenomenon of electronic mortality, where digital data — from medical records to genomic information — can exist, and be accessed, for a potentially infinite period. Consequently, there are major ramifications in a variety of different areas. In particular, health research relies of large data sets. All over the world, countries are facilitating the acquisition and researcher-led access to large-scale, population-based digitised healthcare data sets. Their utilisation has led to numerous positive advances in healthcare. For example, over the last twenty years, Iceland has used a large database to advance population genetics and uncover genes involved in various diseases. Genomic Data Genomic data is that which is derived from the examination of one’s DNA. The information is stored via digital file, and genome-wide studies can uncover associations between genetic variation and … Read More

The dramatic decrease in life-saving tobacco control policies - News

Jul 20, 2017

4.7 billion people – 63% of world’s population – are covered by polices such as strong graphic warnings, smoke-free public places or other measures. According to the latest World Health Organisation report, more countries have implemented tobacco control policies, ranging from graphic pack warnings and advertising bans to no smoking areas. Roughly 4.7 billion people, or 63% of the world’s population are covered by at least one comprehensive tobacco control measure. This number has quadrupled since 2007 when only 1 billion people, and 15% of the world’s population, were covered. Click on image for higher resolution.   Tobacco use kills more than 7 million people every year. Effective and well considered tobacco control measures save millions of people from an early death. The tobacco industry however continues to kick up a fuss, hampering government efforts to fully implement these interventions. “Governments … Read More

Natural Mutations and Sickle Cell Anaemia - News

Jul 19, 2017

Using the gene-editing technique CRISPR, a UNSW Sydney-led team of scientists has introduced a beneficial natural mutation into blood cells, switching on production of foetal haemoglobin. This advance could eventually lead to a cure for sickle cell anaemia and other blood disorders. Sickle Cell Anaemia Cells in tissues need a constant, steady supply of oxygen to function properly. Normally, haemoglobin in red blood cells picks up oxygen in the lungs and transports it around the body. Red blood cells that contain normal haemoglobin are disc-shaped, like a doughnut without a hole. This disc shape enables the cells to be flexible, ensuring they can move freely through large and small blood vessels to deliver their precious oxygen cargo. Figure A shows normal red blood cells flowing freely in a blood vessel. The inset image shows a cross-section of a … Read More

The temperamental past of Auckland’s Volcanoes - News

Jul 18, 2017

Two recent studies have found that Auckland’s volcanoes had a rather stormy and temperamental past. At one stage, several large eruptions happened within 4,000 years, whereas at other times there were thousands of years of silence. The two studies were published this month in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research and in the Bulletin of Volcanology by a team of researchers from the DEVORA (Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland) research programme. The research team included scientists from GNS Science, Victoria University of Wellington and The University of Auckland. They determined that the Auckland Volcanic Field has a complex and episodic eruption history. The Auckland volcanic field is an area of monogenetic volcanoes (volcanoes that erupt only once), that is … Read More

Pinus radiata, New Zealand’s adopted icon - A History of NZ Science in 25 Objects

Jul 17, 2017

I used to be terrified of pine forests. The tall, dark trees seemed to quiver with menace, fringing the roads as we drove along in our little car. I’d peer out the window and dare myself to look into the forest, half expecting to see a wild thing lurking between the trees. Pinus radiata is New Zealand’s great timber tree. It covers 1.3 million hectares of land and forms the basis of a massive export industry. It was first introduced into New Zealand in 1859 and comprises 89% of the country’s plantation forests, including the massive Kaingaroa Forest on the central plateau of the North Island, the largest planted forest in the world. Californian Introduction Radiata pine was first introduced by European settlers in the late 1850s. Its excellent growth rate ensured it … Read More

Weeds head for the hills as climate warms - News

Jul 11, 2017

As temperatures rise, plants head up mountainsides, with weeds spreading to higher altitudes twice as fast as native plants. An international team of researchers, including a New Zealander conducted the first study to look at non-native weed spread. The study specifically examined the European Alps, but a local researcher who was involved said that the situation might be even more dire in New Zealand due to our high numbers of invasive weeds. Climate change has made more land available to these plants, threatening vulnerable alpine ecosystems. Moreover, this colonisation is facilitated by skiing and alpine tourism, as weed seeds hitch rides up the mountain along roads. It was found that weeds quickly outpaced other plants in terms of spread. “We know native plants are moving up mountains as climate warms, but until now no-one had looked at how non-native weeds might … Read More

Myths about psychosis affect employment - News

Jul 10, 2017

The public’s preconceptions about psychosis makes it rather difficult for those living with the condition to gain employment and achieve their goals, a new Australian study finds. The study, published today in the Australian Journal of Psychology set out to examine the barriers there were to employment for people with psychosis. What is Psychosis? Psychosis is an umbrella term that is used to describe the state of an individual when he or she experiences things that do not exist and/or believes things that have no basis in reality. During a psychotic episode, one might experience hallucinations and/or delusions, or may see and hear things that do not exist. Understandably, this can be incredibly frightening for the individual, and sometimes can cause complications with themselves and others. In addition to … Read More