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.

First baby ‘Dumbo’ octopods found - News

Feb 23, 2018

“Ridiculed because of his enormous ears, a young circus elephant is assisted by a mouse to achieve his full potential.” You’ve heard of Dumbo the Elephant (if you haven’t, you are missing out!), but have you heard of Dumbo the Octopod?  In a report in Current Biology on February 19, researchers have described a deep sea “dumbo” octopod. These young octopods look and act much like adults from the moment they emerge from an egg capsule. According to Elizabeth Shea at the Delaware Museum of Natural History, “Once the fins were observed while it was still in the bucket, it was clear that it was a ‘dumbo’ octopod,” says Elizabeth Shea at the Delaware Museum of Natural History. Original theatrical release poster for Dumbo (1941). WIkimedia Commons. The octopod was identified as a member of the Grimpoteuthis family. However, the researchers … Read More

Your Fitbit could warn you about heart disease - News

Feb 23, 2018

It seems that almost everyone these days has a fitbit, or some other form of wearable sensor for personal fitness tracking. However, a research article published in the open access journal PLOS Biology has revealed that these finicky little devices can be used to gain new insights in several fields of biomedical research.  Weng Khong Lim and colleagues from the SingHealth Duke-NUS Institute of Precision Medicine, Singapore, and the National Heart Centre Singapore show that wearables are able to identify groups of volunteers with similar patterns of daily activity. The Fitbit Flex, with the functioning unit out of the replaceable wristband. Wikimedia Commons. These fitness trackers can also predict various markers of risk for cardiovascular diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Fitbits and their ilk are becoming increasingly available, leading to a rise in interest … Read More

Meta-analysis finds antidepressants ARE probably effective - News

Feb 22, 2018

A major meta-analysis study comparing commonly used antidepressants has concluded that all are more effective than placebo for the short-term treatment of acute depression in adults, with effectiveness ranging from small to moderate for different drugs. What is depression? According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression “is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.” The meta-analysis Published in The Lancet, the international study comprises a network meta-analysis of 522 double-blind, randomised controlled trials comprising a total of 116477 participants. This study constitutes the largest amount … Read More

Even light physical activity in your 70s can prolong life - News

Feb 21, 2018

A recent study has revealed that even short bursts of exercise, including those of light intensity, is linked to a lower risk of death in older men. Published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that providing the recommended 150 minute weekly tally of moderate to physical activity is reached, total volume, rather than activity in 10 minute bouts, as current guidelines suggest, might be key. This lower level of intensity will probably suit most older men better, say the researchers. According to current exercise guidelines, one should complete at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity in bouts lasting 10 or more minutes. But such a pattern is not always easy for older adults to achieve. In order to ascertain whether other patterns of activity might still contribute to lowering the risk … Read More

Walk this Way! Lizards may have run on two feet as early as 110 million years ago - News

Feb 20, 2018

A recent study in Scientific Reports has concluded that lizards may have run on two feet (bipedally) as early as 110 million years ago. Although typical lizard locomotion is quadrupedal (on four feet), bipedalism is a behaviour exhibited by over 50 species of lizards. During bipedal locomotion, the forelimbs leave the ground and the trunk of the lizard is elevated; essentially the lizard looks like it is “standing up”. Only the lizard’s hind limbs power movement. It is not clear at what point in their evolution lizards developed the ability to run on their hind legs. However in this study, Hang-Jae Lee and colleagues describe the first direct evidence of bipedal running in fossil lizards. Four series of lizard footprints (trackways) have been discovered in the Hasandong Formation (a Mesozoic geologic formation in South Korea) which has been dated back to the Aptian-early Albian period, 125 to 100 million … Read More

Whole Lotta Rosie! Ancient fossil found in Waipara - News

Feb 19, 2018

Canterbury Museum is now the proud home of the world’s oldest penguin fossil and the world’s most complete specimen of any bird (also a penguin) that lived during the 10 million years following the extinction of the dinosaurs. Left to Right: Dr Paul Scofield, Dr Vanesa De Pietri and Dr Gerald Mayr with the skull of Rosie’s Penguin. The story of Rosie’s Penguin is published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology by Dr Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Dr Paul Scofield Senior Curator Natural History Canterbury Museum, Dr Vanesa De Pietri Research Curator Natural History Canterbury Museum and fossil collectors Leigh Love and Al Mannering. Rosie’s Penguin comprises an almost complete skeleton, missing only its feet and a few other remains. The specimen was recovered from greensand rocks near Waipara by Leigh Love and Al Mannering in May … Read More

Highly processed foods may be linked to cancer - News

Feb 16, 2018

There may exist an association between intake of highly processed food in the diet and cancer. Published yesterday by The BMJ, the study suggests that while further exploration is needed, the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods “may drive an increasing burden of cancer in the next decades.”  What are Ultra-processed foods? Ultra-processed foods include packaged baked goods and snacks, sugary cereals, fizzy drinks, ready meals and reconstituted meat products. These foods tend to contain high levels of sugar, fat, and salt, and are lacking in vitamins and fibre. They are thought to account for up to 50% of total daily energy intake in several developed countries. Ultra-processed foods include packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, ready meals and reconstituted meat products. Although a few studies have linked ultra-processed foods to higher risks of obesity, high … Read More

What’s that smell? Perfect poo pills! - News

Feb 15, 2018

Gut scientists have pored over numbers and come up with a way of predicting which good bacteria can be successfully transplanted in a poo transplant. What is a Poo Transplant? Fecal microorganism transplant (FMT) is a process wherein fecal matter (aka poo) is collected from a tested donor, mixed with a saline solution, strained, and reintroduced to a patient, via colonoscopy, endoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or enema. This transplant’s purpose is to replace “good” bacteria that has been killed or outnumbered by bad bacteria, specifically Clostridium difficile, or C. diff.. This bad bacteria overpopulates the colon, causing a condition called C. diff. colitis, which results in often debilitating, sometimes fatal diarrhoea. For FMT be successful, donor bacteria must attach, or engraft, to the recipient’s gut, but the forces influencing engraftment and growth have been largely unknown. Clostridium difficile. Wikimedia Commons. The Study In … Read More

Happy Valentines Day! Temporary e-tattoo can record your beating heart - News

Feb 14, 2018

“Close your eyes, give me your hand, darlin’ Do you feel my heart beating Do you understand” You know what else can record heart beats? That’s right, an electronic tattoo! Temporary tattoos may no longer be as popular as they once were, but researchers at Huazhong University of Science and Technology and the University of Texas at Austin have come up with a cheap way of using their sophisticated tech to fix electronic tattoos onto your skin that can record body temperature and heart rate. Although it’s probably not a design you wanted permanently imprinted, this new method is much thinner and more breathable than a previous cut-n-paste version which also required tape to be stuck on. An extremely thin plastic sheet was attached to temporary tattoo transfer paper and then coated with a thin film of gold particles. The design … Read More

Salmonella…mmm! How good is your food safety knowledge? - News

Feb 13, 2018

It’s swiftly coming up to that time again, where hordes of students return to the major cities for their tertiary education (not to mention flat initiations, couch burning, toga parties and dodgy drinking decisions). This time of the year also coincides with peaks in Campylobacter and Salmonella food poisoning cases among those aged between 20 and 25 years old. Food Safety Information Council consumer research shows young people are likely to have poorer knowledge of food safety basics such as washing hands, correct cooking temperatures, riskier foods and fridge safety. This is of particular concern as one of the part time jobs that young people are likely to take is working as a food handler. As the academic year begins, the Food Safety Information Council, together with their member Cater Care, have launched a food safety tips poster for young people leaving home to … Read More