Sarah-Jane O'Connor

Dr Sarah-Jane O'Connor trained in journalism after finishing a PhD in Ecology then worked for The Press for two years. She is a teaching fellow in science communication at Victoria University of Wellington, editor of Sciblogs, and a former senior media advisor with the Science Media Centre.

Mountains spawned diverse fish - News

Dec 15, 2015

The diverse range of native fish in the South Island are thanks to the uplift of the Southern Alps, new research suggests. Research published today in Nature Geoscience, and led by the University of Otago, has drawn a link between rapid mountain-building in the South Island and the diversification of native fish.  Changes in geography have long been considered a driver of evolution, especially when barriers are formed that prevent reproduction across a range. But there are few clear examples of such an effect, especially because there are many other environmental and ecological factors at play. University of Otago professors Dave Craw (Geology) and Jon Waters (Zoology) collaborated on the research which used a mathematical model to reconstruct the topographical evolution of the South Island over the past 25 million years. The Marsden-funded research found the island’s landscape … Read More

A better understanding of Auckland volcanoes - News

Dec 14, 2015

Tracking the source of volcanic ash has given a New Zealand researcher a better understanding of Auckland volcanoes and when they erupted. Jenni Hopkins reconstructed the volcanic history of Auckland as part of her PhD research at Victoria University in the hope of better understanding the risk posed by new eruptions in our biggest city. Auckland’s volcanic field is made up of over 50 craters spanning about 200,000 years of volcanic activity. Though currently dormant, the volcanic field is expected to erupt again from a new site within the next few hundred years. Auckland’s 53 volcanoes are “monogenic”, Hopkins said, which means they generally erupt only once. “But what was previously unknown was the order in which they erupted – I wanted to find that out so that we could establish the characteristics of the field and get … Read More

Paris agreement settled - News

Dec 13, 2015

Overnight the Paris agreement was settled upon, with a goal to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. It has taken two weeks of intense negotiations, but the decision has been made not just to aim for a target of 2°C, but to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. Countries will be required to report on “national inventories of emissions by source” and also to report on their mitigation efforts. Victoria University climate scientist Professor James Renwick said the agreement was the “most positive thing to come out of the COP negotiations to date”. “The call for transparency, continual ratcheting up of emissions targets, and the provisions for climate finance, are very positive outcomes.” Renwick said the agreement included a statement that developed countries shall undertake “economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets”. “Take … Read More

Getting ahead of a potentially deadly salamander disease - News

Dec 11, 2015

A fungal pathogen with the potential to devastate salamander populations has yet to arrive in North America, but scientists are ready and waiting should it appear. New Zealand researchers are among a group calling for global action against the emerging disease before it spreads. Scientists in Europe discovered the fungal pathogen, Salamander chytrid disease – Batrachocytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), a year ago and attributed it to recent die-offs of salamanders in Europe. The cause for concern stems from the similarity to a fungal pathogen that has devastated populations of frogs in the neotropics, Australia and the western United States. The Amphibian Survival Alliance published collaborative work on Friday in PLOS Pathogens detailing the action taken to prevent the spread of Bsal in North America and the plans to respond if it does make it … Read More

Paracetamol has no effect on the flu - Unsorted

Dec 07, 2015

It’s included in numerous over-the-counter cold and flu medicines, but according to New Zealand researchers paracetamol has no effect on the flu. Research published today in Respirology found no difference in the severity or duration of influenza symptoms, temperature or viral load in patients taking paracetamol – indicating no benefits from taking the medicine while sick with the flu. The study is believed to be the first randomised placebo-controlled trial testing the effectiveness of paracetamol on influenza symptoms. The trial had 80 participants – half were given two 500mg paracetamol tablets four times a day for five days; the others were given placebo pills. Although all had influenza-type symptoms, 46 tested positive for the influenza virus (22 on placebo, 24 on paracetamol). In all participants, including those with influenza, taking paracetamol had no effect on their symptoms. Medical Research Institute of … Read More

Heavy burden caused by contaminated food - News

Dec 04, 2015

Following a week of cacophony over contaminated frozen fruit, New Zealand and Australian scientists have been part of a global project examining how sick food makes us. The first ever World Health Organisation estimate of global food disease burden found that one in ten people fall ill every year from contaminated food and 420,000 die as a result. Children under five were most affected, making up 30% (125,000) of total deaths despite being only 9% of the global population. Those children who survive a bout of foodborne disease may suffer delayed mental and physical development, creating a long-lasting impact on quality of life. The WHO report estimated that 31 foodborne hazards created a disease burden comparable to HIV/AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis. Over half of the disease burden was caused by diarrhoeal diseases, often attributed to eating raw or undercooked meat, eggs, … Read More