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.

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

Thousands of NZ children continue to be exposed to second-hand smoke in cars - News

Jul 07, 2017

New evidence shows one in five children continue to be exposed to smoking in cars. Exposure even increased in 2015. According to Action on Smoking and Health New Zealand (ASH), secondhand smoke (SHS) consists of the smoke that is either exhaled by the smoker, or that is given of by the burning tobacco and released into the air. This SHS contains over 50 cancer causing chemicals, plus other toxic substances that are often in greater concentrations than the smoker inhales. These chemicals include acetone (paint stripper); ammonia (toilet cleaner); cyanide (rat killer); and carbon monoxide (car exhaust fumes). The health effects of SHS for children include increased risk of respiratory tract infections, exacerbations of asthma and glue ear. Led by the University of Otago, Wellington, the … Read More

Mice lacking a sense of smell stay thin - News

Jul 06, 2017

Mice that have been engineered to lack a sense of smell lose weight on a high-fat diet, according to a report in today’s issue of Cell Metabolism. The mice ate just as much as counterparts with unaltered senses, yet lost an average of about 16 percent of their body weight. This weight loss was almost entirely from fat. Moreover, it has been found that mice with an enhanced sense of smell gain more weight than mice with typical olfactory abilities, despite similar diets. Principle investigator Andrew Dillin, professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, described the finding as “one of the most interesting discoveries to come out of my lab. What’s happening to those calories?” Initially, it was suspected … Read More

Deep water corals glow in the dark to survive - News

Jul 05, 2017

It has long been established that corals in shallow waters glow because of fluorescent proteins that act as sunblock, protecting the endangered species from the sun’s intense rays. As any kiwi can attest, too much sunlight is bad for humans. Excess sunlight is also detrimental to corals. Some shallow water corals produce fluorescent proteins to block excessive sunlight that could harm the zooxanthellae. However, this doesn’t explain why numerous corals in deep waters are also brightly fluorescent. It turns out that corals in deep water are fluorescent for the exact opposite reason – to absorb the little light there is for the benefit of photosynthetic microorganisms that provide most of the coral’s energy needs. Found within most corals are photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae. These microscopic algae live within the coral’s tissues, … Read More