John Kerr

John Kerr is a PhD student researching public attitudes towards science in the School of Psychology at Victoria University Wellington. He was a Media Advisor at the Science Media Centre for five years and has several years experience in both laboratory research and academic publishing.

Prenatal genetic screening risks information overload for parents - News

Sep 11, 2017

A new report from New Zealand bioethicists warns that prenatal screening technology is developing exponentially – and we need to think hard about how we use it. The Judging Genes & Choosing Children report, funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation, digs into the ethical, legal and social issues posed by a new era of genomic testing for embryos and foetuses. The hefty 342-page report considers a number of rapidly evolving genetic technologies that a woman may be offered, either during pregnancy or regarding embryos created by IVF (in-vitro fertilisation), including: Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), which enables foetal information to be gleaned from a maternal blood test as early as 10 weeks into pregnancy Chromosomal microarray testing that may be performed at about 18 weeks following invasive amniocentesis Preimplantation genetic testing of IVF embryos involving the latest high-resolution, … Read More

New ‘fat vs. carbs’ study could be misleading for Kiwi diet - News

Aug 30, 2017

Chowing down on a high-carb diet could be worse for your overall health than eating a high-fat diet – if you believe the media coverage of a new international study. But a New Zealand expert warns the dietary implications of the findings aren’t that simple, especially for Kiwis. The study The new research, published yesterday in the Lancet, comes from the massive Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological (PURE) Study. The international team of researchers collected health and diet data from over 135,000 people in 18 countries for almost eight years. In particular, the researchers focused on how much of person’s total energy intake came from carbohydrates or fats. In a nutshell, the study found that the people who got a lot of their daily energy intake from carbohydrates had a much higher risk of death during the study … Read More

Gene drives could wipe out island pest populations – study - News

Aug 10, 2017

An entire island population of invasive mice could be eradicated by the single release of 100 engineered mice carrying ‘gene drives’ which spread infertility throughout a population. The finding comes from a new study which used computer simulations to investigate how gene drives – essentially sets of ‘selfish genes’ which are more likely to pass on to the next generation –  spread through a population.  The authors examined the impact of several different gene drives which cause sterility in some offspring or prevent mouse embryos from fully developing. The research was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The researchers found that a single introduction of 100 mice carrying a gene drive causing infertility could eradicate an island mouse population of 50,000 within four to five years. What was important, they noted, was that … Read More

Rockstar physicist Brian Cox coming to New Zealand - News

Jul 31, 2017

Professor Brian Cox, one of the world’s most famous physicists and science communicators, is coming to New Zealand with a blockbuster live show.  The softly-spoken British scientist is bringing his record breaking live science show to New Zealand in November, for the first time. It will play at the ASB Theatre in Auckland on Tuesday 7 November. Lateral Events, the company bringing Prof Cox’s show to NZ, gives a rundown on what the show will entail: It has taken 4 billion years from the origin of life on Earth to produce living things that can contemplate the true scale of the Universe, and our contemplations raise challenging questions about our place and value amongst an infinite sea of stars. Using state of the art visuals, Professor Brian Cox will explore the Cosmos as revealed to us by modern astronomy; a place … Read More

Radar-sensing albatrosses could become ‘patrollers of the Southern Ocean’ - News

Jun 21, 2017

New technology which tracks how much time seabirds spend around fishing vessels could be recruited into the fight against illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean. The use of GPS trackers to chart the travels of wildlife is not exactly new, but developments in animal tracking now allow researchers to not only see where animals are, but also who else might be in the vicinity. In a new study just published in the journal Conservation Biology,  researchers attached ‘XGPS’ units with radar sensors to 53 juvenile wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) foraging from the Crozet Islands. These devices tracked the birds’ movements as well as recording areas where they picked up a radar signal from nearby boats. The tiny units – weighing less than 35 grams – were developed by New Zealand-based Sextant Technologies (the same company … Read More

NZ researchers line up worst island invaders - News

Jun 14, 2017

New Zealand conservation researchers have assembled a rogues’ gallery of the worst invasive species for islands around the world. In a new article in Environmental Conservation, published this week, Dr James Russel from the University of Auckland and colleagues review the challenges of holding invaders at bay on small island states. Invasive species can have a detrimental impact on biodiversity, write the authors, but also wreak havoc with agriculture, health, tourism and the economy. “Islands such as New Zealand have long been known to be vulnerable to the impact of invasive species introduced to them, the classic example being the introduction of mammalian predators driving many bird species to extinction,” said Dr Russell in a media release. “However, although every island in the world fights its own battles against invasive species, this study provides a global overview of … Read More

The first of us – oldest ever human fossil uncovered in Africa - News

Jun 08, 2017

A new report of the oldest ever human fossil – estimated to be around 300,000 years old – dramatically pushes back our best guess of when Homo sapiens first walked the Earth. Two papers published in Nature today report the dating and analysis of several fossils discovered at the archaeological site of Jebel Irhoud, Morocco. An international research team led by Professor Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany) uncovered the fossil bones of Homo sapiens along with stone tools and animal bones at Jebel Irhoud. Fossils were first found at the site during mining excavations in the late 1960s, and initially thought to be Neanderthal in origin. Until now the exact age of the remains was uncertain; previous estimates dated the fossils to be around 160,000 years old. The analysis of further bones and … Read More

Avoiding the strange of climate change - News

May 23, 2017

Children alive today will find themselves living in a totally different climate in the future, should greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, warns a new study. Climate change does what it says on the tin – it changes the climate. The question of when and where we will start to notice those changes is tackled in a new, Kiwi-led study published today in Nature Climate Change. ‘Unfamiliar’ climates From year to year there is a lot of variability in the local climate, some years are warmer than average, some cooler. The new research aims to separate the future climate change ‘signal’ from the ‘noise’ of this normal variation, with a focus on the human dimension. At which point does a future local climate become so unusual that an individual would see it as significantly different from, say, when they were a … Read More

Antimicrobial resistance – what does it mean for NZ? - News

May 17, 2017

We may be a small country tucked away in the South Pacific, but that doesn’t mean New Zealand is immune to the global problem of ‘superbugs’, warns a new report.  A new evidence paper from the Royal Society Te Apārangi sums up the current knowledge on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in New Zealand and outlines efforts underway to prevent the further spread of disease-causing microorganisms resistant to medicines – AKA ‘superbugs’. Siouxsie Wiles, a microbiologist from the University of Auckland, a Royal Society Te Apārangi Councillor and an expert adviser on the report, says AMR is not a new thing. “Microbes have become resistant to the medicines we have used to treat them ever since we started using medicines, but the problem is we are running out of medicines that work. The cupboard is now bare.” A 2016 … Read More

NZ scientists leading de-extinction discussion - News

May 11, 2017

If we could resurrect an extinct species like the moa or the mammoth, how would it fare out in the big bad world? This week the journal Functional Ecology published a special feature series on the ecology of de-extinction, including a number of articles by New Zealand authors. Sciblogs has dived into the de-extinction discussion with a special miniseries on de-extinction featuring posts from some of the Functional Ecology authors as well as regular Scibloggers.  Here’s a run-down of the posts: De-extinction: the devil is in the details Prof Phil Seddon from Otago University, the guest editor behind the Functional Ecology feature, kicks off with a post acknowledging the realities and difficulties of resurrecting an extinct species. “Trouble is, even for species that have only recently disappeared from parts of their range, reintroduction success is not guaranteed, In fact, historically, … Read More