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.

Thanks Mum and Dad! Reef fish inherit tolerance to warming oceans - News

May 02, 2018

Recent research published in Nature Climate Change has found that reef fish can inherit from their parents the genetic tools to adjust to warming oceans. Obviously, given that our climate is rapidly changing, the decline of animal populations – particularly marine populations – is a distinct concern. For the first time, researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) and the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) can report new evidence of reef fish adjusting to global warming conditions at the genetic level. According to senior author Prof Philip Munday of Coral CoE at James Cook University: “When parents are exposed to an increase in water temperature, we found that their offspring improved their performance in these otherwise stressful conditions by selectively modifying their epigenome.” What is epigenetic change? Basically, epigenetic change refers to … Read More

Moderate to severe mid-life anxiety may be linked to later life dementia - News

May 02, 2018

An analysis of the available published evidence in the online journal BMJ Open suggests that moderate to severe mid-life anxiety may be linked to dementia in later life. However, it remains unclear as to whether active treatment could curb this risk. Moreover, the degree to which non-drug therapies such as meditation and mindfulness that reduce anxiety might help is unknown also. A number of studies have indicated that mental illness – such as anxiety, depression or eating disorders – might be associated with dementia in older age. However, it’s not clear if this mental illness factor represents initial (prodromal) symptoms before the advent of fully fledged disease, or if it acts as an independent risk factor. To this end, the researchers carefully examined research databases for studies looking at the association between mid-life anxiety, in isolation or combined with depression, and … Read More

Is it ethical to grow brain tissue? - News

Apr 27, 2018

In this week’s Nature, there is an intriguing op-ed about the ethics of growing or sustaining human brain tissue. We must consider the fact that researchers one day might be able to create a model in the laboratory that may be capable of what might appear to be conscious experiences. If this were to happen, it would raise a number of issues concerning ownership, stewardship, rights, disposal and data protection? To this end, Nita Farahany, Henry Greely and co-authors pose a number of difficult questions.  In order to study disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia, researchers are growing miniaturized, simplified versions of human brain tissue from stem cells, called brain organoids. “Brain organoids can be produced much as other 3D multicellular structures resembling eye, gut, liver, kidney and other human tissues have been built2–4. By adding appropriate signalling factors, aggregates of … Read More

Many healthcare attacks in Syria are being missed by the media - News

Apr 27, 2018

A new study published this week in PLOS Medicine has found that attacks on health facilities and health workers in Syria are likely more common than previously reported. Moreover, local data collectors can help researchers more accurately measure the extent and frequency of these attacks. International humanitarian law is violated when violent acts on hospitals, ambulances, health workers, and patients in conflict areas occur. These attacks can cripple health systems during the time they are needed most. Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, an unprecedented number of attacks on hospitals and health workers has been reported using various methods and approaches and with different results It is important to document these attacks in order to identify strategies to keep patients and healthcare workers safe, as well as promote justice and influence policy. Having said this, a systematic and consistent method for verifying and quantifying … Read More

Dementia an extra challenge in natural disasters - News

Apr 26, 2018

As anyone who has experienced a natural disaster such as a tornado or flood will attest, natural disasters are very traumatic experiences for everyone involved. Yet they are even more dangerous for people with dementia. To this end, the QUT-based Dementia Centre for Research Collaboration: Carers and Consumers (DCRC-CC) has published a new guide, which aims to prepare those who care for people with dementia to cope. What is dementia? According to Dementia New Zealand, dementia is a progressive disorder where there is a decline in a variety of mental functions. The declining functions are primarily cognitive – in short, the person has a change in thinking abilities. The word “dementia” is an umbrella term covering group of disorders of cognition. Different types of dementia have different underlying disease processes and usually present with a different pattern of cognitive symptoms. Read More

Opinion: Give Postgraduates a Student Allowance Too - Guest Work

Apr 26, 2018

I’m in the exceedingly fortunate position of not worrying about my postgraduate education costs; I have a scholarship that pays my fees and accomodation over the next few years. I won’t have to worry about feeding myself, scraping together my dollars to cover power bills, or shivering in my bedroom because I can’t afford an electric blanket. But for many postgraduate students and prospective postgraduate students, this isn’t the case. The Student Allowance is part of the Student Loan Scheme, and is a weekly subsidy for living costs that students do not have to pay back. The National government chucked out postgraduate student allowances at the beginning of 2013, providing allowances only to undergraduate students or those studying an Honours degree. According to Stephen Joyce, the Tertiary Education Minister at the time, these changes would … Read More

A quarter of all US food ends up in the bin - News

Apr 24, 2018

I don’t know about you, but whenever I think of the United States and food, I imagine a heaped plate of chips, burgers and salad. Perhaps there’s a milkshake beside the plate too. I have a tremendous appetite, but even I know that I can’t eat everything. Huge plates of food leave behind huge piles of waste. US consumers wasted about one pound (0.45 kilogram) of food per person each day between the years of 2007 and 2014. This food doesn’t just magically appear – it requires a great deal of land, water, fertilizer and the like. Thus growing this wasted food necessitates 30 million acres of cropland, 4.2 trillion gallons of irrigation water, 1.8 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer, and 780 million pounds of pesticides. These figures originate from a study published April 18, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by … Read More

Three coffees a day may help your heart stay regular - News

Apr 23, 2018

Many doctors advise their patients with atrial or ventricular arrhythmias to stay away from coffee, coke, and other caffeinated beverages. However recent research published in JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology has revealed that coffee and tea at least are safe, and can reduce the frequency of arrhythmias. What are Arrhythmias? Arrhythmias are abnormal heart rhythms, and occur when the heart beats too slowly, quickly or unevenly. Some arrhythmias are harmless, and many go unnoticed in patients, but others can increase the risk for sudden cardiac arrest. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common heart rhythm disorder, causes the heart to beat rapidly and skip beats, and if left untreated, can cause strokes. Some arrhythmias have no associated symptoms, but regular symptoms include dizziness, breathlessness, and palpitations. There are many and varied causes of arrhythmia, including diabetes, mental stress, and smoking. There is about 95 mg of … Read More

‘Life support’ for livers may improve transplants  - News

Apr 20, 2018

A paper published recently in Nature has found that preserving livers at body temperature may improve transplant outcomes and increase viable donor liver numbers, thereby lowering waiting list mortality rates. Liver disease may arise from a variety of causes, such as genetic, or it may be caused by factors that damage the liver, such as viruses and alcohol use. Over time, damage to the liver results in scarring (cirrhosis), which can lead to liver failure, a life-threatening condition. Liver disease may be indicated by a number of symptoms, including skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice), abdominal pain and swelling, swelling in the legs and ankles, itchy skin, dark urine colour, pale stool colour, or bloody or tar-coloured stool, chronic fatigue, nausea or vomiting, a loss of appetite, and a tendency to bruise easily. Rising liver disease rates have put pressure on … Read More

Cuddly, Charismatic and … Cursed? - Guest Work

Apr 18, 2018

Who hasn’t seen Madagascar, the animated comedy depicting four hapless animals – a lion, a zebra, a giraffe and a hippo – stranded in Madagascar? I have eight younger siblings, and was forced to watch it myriad times. I have a perverse hatred for Alex the Lion, and have refused to watch any of the sequels.  It is generally considered that the most “charismatic”, or publicly accepted species have a high status in conservation biology. It is commonly claimed that these species – such as lions, tigers and elephants – have a privileged level of attention, often at the expense of other, more “ordinary” species. Yet a study recently published in PLOS Biology has revealed that the popularity of these animals may actually lead to their downfall, as people assume complacency about their chances of survival. A Stuffed monkey? … Read More