Pandemics, predators and predicting sea-level rise are just a few of the issues covered in our Sciblogs Horizon Scan special series.
We asked experts across the spectrum of New Zealand science to give us their take on the big issues in their field and what might be around the corner. What does the future hold in store for New Zealand science? What are the big issues our small, isolated country will face in a world of accelerating change?
You can get the full lowdown on the series in this introductory post from Sciblogs Editor Peter Griffin, and see a collection of earlier posts here.
Here’s a wrap-up of the latest posts in the summer series.
Helen Taylor takes a look at the amazing possibilities gene editing offers conservationists. Could we restore genetic diversity in our kiwi species or wipe out possums once and for all? However there is also the potential for some disastrous unintended consequences, she warns. There will be some tough conversations ahead…
“Gene editing could be a silver bullet or a poison chalice. Either way, it’s a technology that conservation scientists and practitioners, and the general public, need to start taking seriously.”
When it comes to discussion of sea-level rise, the future fate of the Antarctic ice sheet is the gorilla in the room, says climate researcher Tim Naish. Current IPCC sea-level projections may significantly underestimate the Antarctic contribution to future sea level by 2100 by as much as 80cm!
The range of possible climatic futures remains large, but New Zealand needs to take a flexible and precautionary approach to planning for sea-level rise now.
“Although the scientific understanding will continue to improve, global mitigation measures taken over the next 2 decades will largely control how much sea-level rise we are committed to by the end of the century and beyond, and weather we commit our planet to the melt down of the polar ice sheets.”
High speed computing, global networks and screeds of health data mean we can now answer scientific and medical questions that would have been unfathomable just years ago. ‘Big Data’ and ‘Big Science’ for health is both daunting and exciting. It might not be a smooth ride, says John Pickering, but it will save lives in the end.
“While there will no doubt be blind alleys and false starts as with any research or new venture, there will also be practical and meaningful evidence based changes to health delivery. Something to look forward to.”
The ‘realness’ and ‘authenticity’ of New Zealand farms gives us a competitive advantage in an increasingly virtual world, says tech writer Peter Kerr. But if we really want to leverage this in the global marketplace of the future, we need to figure out a brand and story that captures this je ne sais quoi.
“Here’s a counter-intuitive notion, that if we’re smart, could allow our ‘analogue’ agricultural systems to thrive in a digital world. But to do so we MUST own our story”
A changing climate is going to impact many facets of the New Zealand wine industry- including taste, says viticulture expert Glen Creasy. We can already get a taste of the future by comparing similar wines from different climate zones and Glen suggests a DIY experiment to see for yourself how temperatures affect the taste of a classic NZ Sauvignon blanc.
“Wine is an expression of the environment it was made in, and so therefore as the environment changes, so must the wine.”
SARS, Ebola, Zika – in a globalised world an infectious disease outbreak anywhere is a potential threat to New Zealand. Public health researchers Julia Scott, Nick Wilson and Michael Baker identify some good initiatives already in place to tackle emerging infectious diseases in New Zealand, but also note major gaps – including disease surveillance and laboratory capacity.
“It is important and timely to consider how NZ can prepare for the next emerging infectious disease pandemic, taking into account the vastly different ways in which it might present. Could we see another SARS? A zoonotic disease with current stuttering transmission to humans such as nipah virus? Or a common pathogen which has developed complete resistance to antibiotics?”
Ecologist Wayne Linklater is not a fan of the new Predator Free 2050 programme. The future success of New Zealand conservation lies in working with nature, not against it, he writes.
There is a place for protecting native species but understanding and building novel ecosystems of natives AND exotics for the future is our only chance of success.
“It is time to stop expediently scapegoating exotic species as if a national program to eradicate them will solve our biodiversity crisis. A few iconic, visible native species will benefit but, elsewhere, our native biodiversity will continue to decline. Until, that is, we do something about us.”
The Sciblogs Horizon Scan
This post is part of the Sciblogs Horizon Scan summer series, featuring posts from New Zealand researchers exploring what the future holds across a range of fields.