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.

Vaping: A new weapon in the battle against obesity? - News

Oct 26, 2016

E-cigarettes may have a part to play in fighting the growing obesity epidemic, say New Zealand researchers. Electronic cigarettes have been welcomed by some, but not all,  public health researchers as a potential new tool to help smokers kick the tobacco habit. Now a new commentary published today in Nicotine & Tobacco Research lays out the case for vaping – using e-cigarettes – as a tool to control appetite and weight gain. The article, titled ‘Could vaping be a new weapon in the battle of the bulge?’  reviews existing research into vaping, nicotine and weight gain, and calls for more research into the public health potential of vaping for weight loss. “Vaping’s use of e-liquids with food flavours, along with the mouth-feel and aroma of the vapour and the hand-to-mouth actions of vaping, could play a role in helping people eat less,” … Read More

No silver bullet for agricultural emissions, says Environment Commissioner - News

Oct 19, 2016

New Zealanders need to work together to tackle the “complex problem of the biological greenhouse gases from agriculture,” warns the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in a new report.  The report Climate change and agriculture: Understanding the biological greenhouse gases, released today, aims to tease out various issues in the fraught area of biological emissions and signpost solutions. “In a way, my report is a reality check,” Commissioner Dr Jan Wright said in a release. “There are no silver bullets here, but we need to do what we can to curb these emissions – and we need to start now.” The report focused on the most prevalent greenhouse gases produced by agriculture: methane produced by gut bacteria in the digestive systems of livestock  (and then belched out into the atmosphere) nitrous oxide created by soil bacteria breaking down the nitrogen in urine and dung from farm animals. Read More

Creating eggs from stem cells raises questions - News

Oct 19, 2016

The successful production of functional mouse eggs entirely in cell culture by Japanese scientists has been lauded as a technical feat, but there might be some tricky issues to tackle before even thinking about progressing the technology to humans. In a paper published in Nature yesterday Katsuhiko Hayashi from Kyushu University and colleagues reported the results of their experiments using mouse cells. The researchers were able to take mouse skin cells and reprogram them to become embryonic-like stem cells, replicating earlier studies. However, the next step was a world first: by placing the stem cells in just the right environment, the researchers were able to trigger development into mature eggs in the lab. Hayashi and co were then able to show these eggs were viable; a small number of the eggs they created, once fertilised and implanted in a … Read More

Swashbuckling NZ spider’s eight million year world tour - News

Oct 14, 2016

Species of coastal New Zealand spiders likely rafted here as a part of an eight million year round-the-world trip, suggests a new study. The Amaurobioides genus of spiders has species dotted around the Southern Hemisphere, including New Zealand, Australia  and South America. These spiders eke out a tough life living in the coastal ‘spray zone’ on rocky shores. The genus includes the sea shore spider (Amaurobioides maritima), common on southern New Zealand coastlines. In 1887 P. Goyen described maritima specimens discovered at Shag Point in North Otago, admiring their resilience: Seen thus, its body covered with silvery globules of air, it is a very handsome object. …. It is a plucky little animal, and fights very stoutly to retain possession of its nest. Although Amaurobioides spiders all appear to share a common ancestor, the various species are now separated over continents. A new study published in … Read More

Stunning photos from NIWA scientists - News

Oct 12, 2016

Being a scientist out in the field can be hard work, with long days in sometimes uncomfortable (or even dangerous) settings collecting data. But it does come with the opportunity for some unbelievable photos. NIWA, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, has announced the winners of its annual photography competition: From one pole to the other, NIWA scientists work in some of the world’s most extraordinary landscapes. On any given day you might find a NIWA staff member under the ocean, on the ice, atop a mountain or deep in a lake or river. These stunning environments, which form the backdrop for the vast array of environmental science undertaken by NIWA, are celebrated each year in an annual photographic competition for staff. The competition is unique for the diversity of images which this year includes everything from the vastness of the Arctic to the … Read More

How old can you go? The limits to human ageing - News

Oct 09, 2016

Hoping to live forever? Well you might be out of luck. New research suggests that there is a biological upper limit on the human life span, and that limit currently sits at 122 years. Calment celebrating her 121st birthday in 1996. Wikipedia. That figure is thanks to Jeanne Calment. She was born in 1875, the year before the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell. She died in 1997, the year Sergey Brin and Larry Page registered the google.com domain name.  Her lifespan of 122 years is the longest recorded and, according to a new study published in Nature, may represent the upper limit of how long humans can live. The new research from Jan Vijg, a geneticist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and his colleagues uses data from the Human Mortality Database, a collection of demographic data from … Read More

NZ Sea Lion one of the world’s most murderous mammals - News

Sep 29, 2016

The New Zealand Sea Lion ranks as one of the most murderous species on the planet, according to a new study examining lethal violence among mammals. Do dolphins duel to the death? Are hippos homicidal? And what about genocidal gerbils? Spanish researchers have mapped the extent of lethal violence across 1000 mammal species, from aardvarks to zebras, and their macabre analysis is published today in the leading journal Nature. To get a big picture view of intra-species killing in mammals, José María Gómez and colleagues compiled data from over 4 million deaths to quantify the level of lethal violence in 1,024 mammal species from 137 taxonomic families and in about 600 human populations, ranging from about 50,000 years ago to the present. The key focus of the research was the evolutionary history of human violence, but the study also revealed some surprisingly high levels of lethal … Read More

Ig Nobel prize: ‘rockin’ NZ research honoured - News

Sep 23, 2016

A wacky New Zealand study has been recognised at the 26th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, a celebration of the odd, weird and quirky side of science. The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative – and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology. Among the winners announced this morning (NZT) was a New Zealand study, taking home the Ig Nobel prize in economics for: “assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective.” The study, titled ‘The brand personality of rocks: A critical evaluation of a brand personality scale‘, was authored by Mark Avis from Massey University, Kiwi ex-pat Sarah Forbes from the University of Birmingham, and Shelagh Ferguson from the University of Otago.  The research was … Read More

When did humans first leave Africa? - News

Sep 22, 2016

Where did we come from and when did we leave there? These existential questions are at the heart of several human genetics studies published today in the leading journal Nature, all with links to New Zealand. Tracing our genetic roots The now widely accepted ‘Out of Africa’ hypothesis puts Africa as the origin of all modern humans. However, there is still debate over exactly when the first humans left the continent and started to spread elsewhere around the globe. Some theories suggest that all present-day non-Africans can trace their ancestry back to a single population while others infer that migration out of Africa took place in distinct waves at different times. One of the new Nature papers, co-authored by Massey University Professor Murray Cox, adds fuel to the debate by uncovering genetic evidence of an early and now largely extinct wave of humans. Read More

Climate change: Biologists told to ‘pull on their boots’ and collect data - News

Sep 11, 2016

An international team of 22 biologists have called on their colleagues to get cracking and collect certain types of data to help predict how the planet’s estimated 8.7 million species will handle a warmer future. “Our biggest challenge is pinpointing which species to concentrate on and which regions we need to allocate resources,” says Associate Professor Mark Urban from the University of Connecticut, lead author of the call-to-arms published this week in the leading journal Science. “We are at a triage stage at this point. We have limited resources and patients lined up at the door.” Fortunately, biologists are working on complex mathematical models that are increasingly accurate in forecasting what will happen to species as the climate changes. But the “biggest obstacle” in now using these models is a lack of real life data to inform calculations, write the article’s authors. Read more about the research … Read More