Steve Pointing

Professor Steve Pointing is Director of the Institute for Applied Ecology New Zealand, AUT University. He completed his undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Great Britain, with undergraduate focus in biochemistry and postgraduate study in microbiology. His doctoral research addressed marine fungal and bacterial colonization of shipwreck timbers from the Tudor warship Mary Rose. After gaining his doctorate he lived and worked in Hong Kong until 2012, conducting research on the microbial ecology of extreme environments. He now calls Auckland home, and his research focuses on environmental issues with regional and global relevance, including New Zealand’s strategic commitment to Antarctica. Steve is on Twitter @stevepointing

Cats are evil, dogs are perfect, but they both have environmental impact - Pointing At Science

Aug 11, 2017

Cats are evil, I have always known this – don’t ask how but I just do1, and now science is proving me right.  Sadly dogs, which everyone knows are humans best friend and the most perfect animal on Earth, are also to blame for the latest environmental impact described in a cool new publication by Gregory Okin2 at UCLA.  Okin reasoned that the 163 million dogs and cats in the USA consume a lot of animal-derived products and so their impact from this consumption and its production has implications for greenhouse gas emissions, feces production and national dietary energy budgets. I have created this visual summary based upon Okin’s data, and am very proud that my childish side managed to keep the ‘poop’ images to a minimum. Several sensible suggestions related to reductions in over-feeding, alternative protein sources … Read More

Severe weather changes may be due to air pollution - Pointing At Science

Aug 01, 2017

One of the most worrying global trends in climate is a southward shift in the tropical rain belt during recent decades. This has significantly affected rainfall patterns and caused severe impacts on water availability, food production and natural hazards. The impacts have been most pronounced in tropical Africa and South America but this phenomenon may also affect tropical Asia including Singapore. The culprit has been assumed to be thermal forcing due to climate change but now a new ‘smoking gun’ has been identified.   A scientific publication in Nature Geoscience this month from the University of Miami Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (Nature Geoscience, doi:10.1038/ngeo2988) suggests that the tropical rain belt shift is not due to natural climate forcing or greenhouse gas emissions, but instead is primarily the result of increased particulate air pollution from burning … Read More

Three Inspiring Biology Reads - Pointing At Science

Jul 07, 2017

Here are the top three readings that have inspired me in science. What do you think? What are your favourite articles?   #3 Endolithic microorganisms in the Antarctic cold desert by Imre Friedmann Emperor Penguins huddling together in Antarctica. I was truly fortunate to work briefly with Imre Friedmann when he was at NASA Ames Research Center. Friedmann was responsible for inspiring a whole generation of scientists by describing microbes that cling to life inside rocks in the most extreme deserts imaginable, such as Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys as described in this 1982 science paper. (Science vol. 215, p1045-1053).  Imre championed the notion of using these microbes as analogues for potential life on the surface of Mars, and was highly influential in guiding early theories in the relatively new field of astrobiology. His work was continued and … Read More

We’ve got 1093 days left to save our planet - Pointing At Science

Jul 03, 2017

With signs that the global rise in CO2emissions declined slightly over the past few years there has been a tendency to suggest this is due to efforts in curbing emissions leading up to and resulting from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.   As likely as not though this may simply reflect a reduction in coal utilisation by China (the world’s largest CO2 emitter) as it’s economy slows. In my home country New Zealand over 80% of energy comes from renewable sources and so I really want to believe that the decline is also due to global efforts that embrace low-carbon energy solutions. However renewables account for only around 13% of global energy sources so we still have a long way to go (for more check out the Renewable Energy Network). The stark truth is that the small … Read More

Finding Pokémon Go creatures in real kiwi wildlife - Pointing At Science

Sep 03, 2016

If you have noticed more people than usual just wandering across roads without looking recently, chances are they were playing Pokémon Go.  This game uses augmented reality to lead players on a chase to capture Pokémon cartoon animals.  The thing is, I reckon we could do a pretty decent job of this game using REAL animals in Aotearoa New Zealand.  Here are a few suggestions and comparisons with actual Pokémon Go characters: Pokémon Caterpie This Pokémon is a vivid green caterpillar and of course we have many larvae of moths and butterflies that could substitute for Caterpie, but my vote goes to the green looper caterpillar. This is the larva of the moth Chryodeixis eriosoma and is commonly found in veggy patches around the country. It is actually a pest if you like growing veggies, but instead of spraying … Read More

Science with a smile today - Pointing At Science

Jul 13, 2016

Sometimes it is easy to find science that makes you smile, and this week I feature three interesting and amusing advances by scientists in New Zealand and the UK. Listen live today on 95.0 bFM radio at 12:15 or catch the podcast on-demand. Why thumb-sucking babies get fewer allergies Did you suck your thumb or bite your nails as a kid? Did your parents tell you off about it all the time?  Well finally science is your instrument for revenge – as Kiwi researchers at  Otago’s School of Medicine in Dunedin prove how biting your nails and sucking your thumb actually make your body tougher in the fight against allergies as you get older. A longitudinal study of over 1,000 participants born in 1970s were studied at infancy and then again as teens … Read More

Amazing animal facts - Pointing At Science

Jul 06, 2016

Birds that fly non-stop, central heating for ants, and decoding the language of pigs – all this and more on Dear Science today on 95.0 bFM radio, or listen to the podcast on demand. Birds that fly non stop We’ve all heard about amazing feats of endurance by migrating birds, and especially those that cross the oceans. Several species travel thousands of kilometres but mostly they benefit from ‘pit stops’ along the way on convenient outcrops of land. For bird aficionados the frigate bird is arguably the superstar of long distance flight, having been previously recorded to fly more than two weeks non-stop. Now new research has smashed that record by using satellite tracking and real-time biometric data to show these birds actually routinely fly non stop for periods of over two months!  This is particularly important for frigate … Read More

Never mind the oil, what about these resources? - Unsorted

Jun 29, 2016

We’ve all heard the concerns over non-renewable resources such as oil, but science has raised some interesting questions about some rather more unusual resource issues recently. I discuss these and other science news stories on bFM’s Dear Science show today. Helium: the new fossil fuel? What is helium and what is it used for? Helium (He) is an element named after the Greek Sun god, Helios. It is the second lightest element in the periodic table, an inert gas with the lowest melting and boiling point of any element, and hence highly desirable as a coolant. It is used to super-cool magnets in MRI machines and the Large Hadron Collider, and even as a rocket fuel coolant. Helium also has many more down-to-earth uses such as in the small lasers … Read More

What would aliens really think about humans? - Pointing At Science

Jun 27, 2016

With the release of ‘Independence Day – Resurgence’ in kiwi cinemas this week, I thought it might be a good time to ponder what aliens might really think about humans – in relation to our scientific efforts to make ourselves known in space.  The most pervasive signal from humans so far are radio waves.  Science tells us that longer wavelength radio waves such as FM radio, television signals and cellphone signals escape and expand our presence into space at almost the speed of light, that’s around 300,000km per second. Short wave radio cannot escape the ionosphere and the signals bounce back – so conversations between radio hams will thankfully not be the first thing ET hears. Radio has been around for just over a century, meaning a bubble of human news, music, entertainment … Read More

A link between the economy, cancer and corporate deviancy? - Pointing At Science

May 30, 2016

A few quirky social studies have appeared in the science literature, reporting data that the authors variously claim links increased cancer deaths to economic downturn, identifies a ‘value’ for corporate misconduct, and shows that the effort you put in to a relationship depends on how your partner stacks up against the competition! Is there a link between economic downturn and a rise in cancer? New research published in the leading medical journal The Lancet this week describes how over a quarter of a million cancer deaths were correlated with economic downturn in developed economies after the 2008 financial collapse. The study by a team from Harvard School of Public Health studied over 2 billion people in 70 OECD countries. They concluded those without a universal healthcare provision such as the USA, Russia and several central and eastern European countries … Read More