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Science Deadline: Midwifery concerns, three-parent bub

Column – Science Media Centre

Top news from the Science Media Centre’s news-sharing platform. Mnuka honey a sweet solution for battling bacterial biofilms Endorsing science increases support for environmental policies Sorry Forbes, extinct NZ raven was one, not two …Science Deadline: Midwifery concerns, three-parent bub born and new NZ birds
Issue 393, 30 Sep 2016
Top news from the Science Media Centre’s news-sharing platform.
Mānuka honey a sweet solution for battling bacterial biofilms
Endorsing science increases support for environmental policies
Sorry Forbes, extinct NZ raven was one, not two species

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Storm in the birthing suite

Research out of the University of Otago this week about midwives has dominated health headlines.

Published on Wednesday in PLOS Medicine, the Otago study looked at over 244,000 New Zealand births over a five-year period comparing adverse outcomes in midwife- and medical-led care.

More than 90 per cent of the births were registered with a midwife lead maternity carer, but the researchers found an unexplained excess of adverse events in midwife-led deliveries. That finding was after they controlled for age, ethnicity, deprivation, body mass index and other measures known to be related to adverse outcomes in births.

College of Midwives chief executive Karen Guilliland responded that private maternity care was better funded and called for greater resourcing of midwife-led maternity care.

“The differences in that outcome may be explained by the way our maternity services have to operate,” she said in a statement. “Most of our maternity hospitals are understaffed and often struggle to provide immediate response when midwives request medical input.”

Ministry of Health’s chief advisor for child and youth health Dr Pat Tuohy said the ministry was taking the findings seriously and had referred them to the National Maternity Monitoring Group.

The findings have been widely debated in the media this week, prompting multiple news stories, editorials and a front page article in the Listener. The scale of coverage had the researchers responding to criticisms of their methodology.


“I don’t even want to think about how many weta and little invertebrates are being gobbled up all the time.”

Victoria University ecologist Dr Heiko Wittmer on predator-free Wellington announcement.

World’s first mtDNA donor

News broke this week that a baby has been born with DNA from three people.

The New Scientist broke the news that the first baby born using the DNA from three parents was born after treatment in Mexico.

The United States scientists were approached by Jordanian parents, after they discovered the mother had a rare mitochondrial disease – Leigh syndrome. She had passed it on to two children, both of whom died from the disease.

The team at New York’s New Hope Fertility Center used a technique called spindle nuclear transfer where the nucleus from one of the mother’s eggs was removed and inserted into a donor egg which had its nucleus removed. The method was chosen because the parents opposed the destruction of embryos, which other methods would have necessitated.

A healthy baby boy was born in April and does not appear to have Leigh syndrome. The researchers will present their findings at a conference in October, but the results have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

University of Otago bioethicist Dr Mike King said the care taken by the team to use a technique that was compatible with the parents’ ethical stance “should be applauded and is a good example of patient-centred medicine”.

University of Auckland’s Dr Lynsey Cree said while the announcement was an exciting announcement for patients with mitochondrial disease, the fact the study has not been subjected to rigorous peer review meant important questions remained unanswered.

“While this is a promising advancement it is vital that the ethical implications are considered and the techniques are appropriately regulated,” she said.

Read expert reaction on the announcement.

Policy news & developments

Updated frozen berry advice: Following recent cases of Hepatitis A linked to eating frozen imported berries, the Ministry for Primary Industries has updated its food safety information for consumers.

Coast forest protected: A rare lowland podocarp/beech forest on the West Coast has been added to conservation estate through the Nature Heritage Fund.

Fungicide welcomed: A fungicide hoped to help protect New Zealand’s arable farming industry – Elatus Plus – has been approved by the Environmental Protection Authority.

Predator-free Wellington? The Wellington City Council has announced plans to make Wellington New Zealand’s first predator-free city, starting on the Miramar Peninsula.

New birds for New Zealand

Reckon you know all the birds in New Zealand – think again, after two more species were officially added to the list.

Writing in Te Papa’s blog, ornithologist Dr Colin Miskelly described the Heritage Expedition cruise to the Kermadecs in March that led to the two birds being spotted and formally added to New Zealand’s bird list.

First, a Herald petrel – Pterodroma heraldica – was photographed flying amongst a crowd of Kermadec petrels off Raoul Island. On later review, the photos showed the unusual visitor.

A few days later a Heritage Expedition staff member saw a red-footed booby – Sula sula – flying over Napier Inlet. The gannet’s relative (pictured in the Galapagos Islands) breeds in the southern Tongan group, 780 kilometres to the north-east of Raoul Island.

Reports of the sightings were given to the Birds New Zealand Records Appraisal Committee, which unanimously accepted the new additions. Welcome to the neighbourhood!

Read Colin’s full blog on Te Papa’s website.

Weekend science reads

Here are a few articles we’ve been enjoying this week.

How the FDA manipulates the media – Scientific American

Embargoes on science news are par for the course, but are they being gamed by institutes? New York University journalism professor Charles Seife explores the issue.

Scientists are giving advice, but are governments listening? – The Guardian

Sir Peter Gluckman – currently in Brussels for a meeting of the International Network for Government Science Advice – and James Wildson discuss the state of play between expert advice and policy decisions.

The inevitable evolution of bad science – The Atlantic

Do researchers pass on bad traits to students leading to the evolution of bad science? Science journalist Ed Yong explores recent research suggesting as such.

Elon Musk unveils Mars colonization plan, but don’t pack your bags just yet – The Washington Post

Elon Musk wants to save humanity, but settling people on Mars is still some time off, writes Joel Achenbach.

New from Sciblogs – NZ’s science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week’s Sciblogs posts:

Mānuka honey may help prevent life-threatening urinary infections

New research adds weight to the antimicrobial benefits of mānuka honey, showing it could be used to protect infections caused by catheters.

Guest Work

Note to the Havelock North Inquiry – Think Big

The investigation of the cause of a campylobacter outbreak in Havelock North must not miss the opportunity to think ‘up-stream’, write Alistair Woodward and Simon Hales.

Public Health Expert

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

The New Zealand sea lion ranks as one of the most ‘murderous’ mammals on the planet, in a new study mapping lethal violence across 1000 species.


Is it in the spirit of the Paris Agreement to ratify it with more emissions?

As the Government plans to ratify the Paris Agreement, ‘Mr February’ considers the mechanics required for ratification.

Hot Topic

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.

Oxytocin – keys to unlocking brain function: 4 October, Dunedin. A public lecture to celebrate Colin Brown’s promotion to Professor, covering his research group’s work on how the brain controls birth, lactation, food intake and water balance.

Big steps forward: 4-6 October, Palmerston North, Wellington, Napier. Distinguished Professor Ian Reid will discuss the impact and treatment of bone diseases, including osteoporosis and Paget’s Disease.

Man on a drug discovery mission: 4 October, Wellington. Professor Peter Tyler’s inaugural lecture will discuss his research into a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Real-life zombies: 6 October, Wellington. A family event at Zealandia, Professor Phil Lester will run a session for kids about the fascinating lives of insects.

What’s eating our potatoes? 6 October, Lincoln. Professor Richard Falloon will describe the pathogen that causes powdery scab of potato and the harmful effects for productivity and crop yields.

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