Researchers work on next-generation sanitisers to control bovine mastitis

Researchers from the Universities of Otago and Auckland have teamed up with Deosan, the manufacturer and supplier of a range of animal health products, to develop new sanitisers for mastitis management. The aim is to enhance New Zealand’s position as a global leader in milk quality by improving performance in mastitis prevention and guard against the emergence of antimicrobial resistance.

Mastitis, a bacterial infection of the udder, is the foremost production-limiting disease for dairying worldwide. It costs the New Zealand dairy industry more than $280 million a year in treatment and discarded milk.

The industry  relies largely on just two antimicrobial sanitisers to control mastitis, administered through teat sprays. Both formulations contain bioactive ingredients (chlorhexidine or iodine) that are also widely used for infection control in hospitals.

The mounting threat of antimicrobial resistance in clinical environments and lower acceptance of chemical residues in consumer products have prompted calls for the development of new types of products for use within the dairy industry.

Previous research by the team (supported by Agmardt) has uncovered a new class of molecules with  potent antimicrobial activity against mastitis-causing microorganisms. These have the potential to synergise with current treatments while being harmless to mammalian cells.

The study will use a combined microbiological and medicinal chemistry approach to advance these new anti-mastitis molecules and pave the way for  new teat care formulations.

Deosan chief executive Kip Bodle said this project provides an ideal opportunity for key stakeholders in the industry to collaborate to ensure we maintain our position as a global leader in producing quality milk.

“Our intention is to engage with government and industry leaders to ensure we are successful in commercialising products that could have global significance. Our more recent experience in the international arena strongly suggests that New Zealand innovation around milk quality resonates well with emerging dairy markets”

The Otago research team, led by Professor Greg Cook, Drs Michelle McConnell and Adam Heikal, are supported by the Auckland University team of Professor Margaret Brimble,

European agency does not classify glyphosate as a carcinogen

The European Chemicals Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment has agreed to maintain the current harmonised classification of glyphosate as a substance causing serious eye damage and being toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects.

But it concluded that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction.

The committee said it has assessed all the scientific data, including any scientifically relevant information received during the public consultation in summer 2016.

Its  classification is based solely on the hazardous properties of the substance. It does not take into account the likelihood of exposure to the substance and therefore does not address the risks of exposure.

The Science Media Centre has posted two expert opinions from Britain (HERE) on the ruling.

Prof Jan Hengstler, Head of the Department of Toxicology / Systems Toxicology, Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors (IfADO), TU Dortmund, Dortmund, comments:

“The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Committee on Risk Assessment (RAC) has concluded that the substance glyphosate does not meet the criteria to be classified as a carcinogen, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction. This conclusion is scientifically justified. Both the available long-term studies in rats and mice as well as epidemiological data do not justify the conclusion that glyphosate is carcinogenic or mutagenic. Under current conditions of use of glyphosate there is no increased cancer risk for humans. Compared to other herbicides, a relatively large number of studies is available on the substance glyphosate, so that a comparatively good assessment with regard to the carcinogenic risk is possible. The conclusion of the ECHA is not surprising, since no new studies were available compared to earlier evaluations.”

Prof Alan Boobis, Professor of Biochemical Pharmacology, Imperial College London, comments:

“ECHA are to be congratulated on their critical evaluation of a large and complex dataset on glyphosate. They have concluded that the totality of the evidence is that glyphosate should not be considered a human carcinogen. It is important that such objective, independent and comprehensive assessments are available to help policy makers in reaching evidence-based decisions”

Survey shows NZ honey bee loss is lower than in other countries

New Zealand’s honey bee population is growing, according to the 2016 NZ Colony Loss and Survival Survey, which shows New Zealand’s honey bee loss is low on an international scale.
Colony deaths from starvation, queen problems and wasps accounted for 87.3 per cent of losses in the 2016 winter season. Losses averaged 9.78 per cent, down from 2015 and over 2 per cent lower than the northern hemisphere average.
Hive numbers have increased 20 per cent between March 2015 and June 2016. The challenges for beekeepers include competition for apiary sites, lost pollen and nectar sources, according to the survey.
Agcarm chief executive Mark Ross said:

“The survey is critical not only because it informs us on bee health, but because it allows us to make better choices to protect our bee population and to track changes on colony loss and survival for the future.
“The report shows that we still have some work to do – to make sure our bees are well-fed and protected from wasps. But, overall, our bee population is thriving – which is good news, especially with all the hype we hear about bee loss.”

Agcarm will continue to work with the bee industry to help ensure a healthy bee population.

New detection system revolutionises water quality tests

Students on an Environmental Health Monitoring course at Massey University in Wellington are the first in the country to use a new rapid automated microbiology detection system to monitor water quality.

The students used the TECTA B16 system to detect Total coliforms and E.coli in drinking water and river water samples from a range of sites in the Wellington region.

Stan Abbott, course supervisor and leader of Massey’s Roof Water Harvesting Centre, said the students quickly familiarised themselves with the sophisticated workings of the TECTA B16 machine.

“In this digital age our students are all so tech savvy, they understood how to operate the machine with a minimum of fuss, much like them using a new computer or smartphone for the first time,” he says.

Havelock North waterborne disease outbreak last year, when more than 5,000 people contracted Campylobacter, highlighted the need for fast and accurate water quality monitoring tests.

“This new monitoring system is relevant also to the E.coli threshold level, which has been hotly debated around the Government’s recent launch of its new Clean Water policy,” Mr Abbott says.

“There has been an endless tide of opinions about the risks that will confront the public when they swim in many of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes, proving that water quality safety for both drinking and swimming in is paramount.”

Mr Abbott said the major advantages of the TECTA B16 automated detection system include:

• A complete, self-contained desktop, touch screen control automated microbiology testing system that is simple to operate and does not require specially qualified personnel.

• Minimal handling of samples and no sample preparation is required. A test can be initiated anytime, while all samples do not have to be loaded into the machine at the same time.

• Full automation of the test analysis and interpretation processes eliminates the need for subjective, visual interpretation of results. An objective, written test report is produced automatically for each sample tested.

Another big advantage is that the machine automatically transmits the data through a network connection to allow immediate notification on electronic devices, such as cell phones or laptops, as soon as a contaminated water sample is detected.

Total coliform and E.coli results are available in two to 18 hours, depending on the level of contamination in the water sample. This immediate notification and early warning of positive sample results as soon as they occur should revolutionise water testing,” he says.

The TECTA B16 system received United States Environmental Protection Agency approval in 2014 and the New Zealand Ministry of Health approved the system for testing drinking water samples for compliance in August 2016.

Three water-testing agencies in New Zealand so far have bought the system.

Endangered beetle faces ‘unholy alliance’ of rabbits and redbacks

An “unholy alliance” between rabbits and Australian redback spiders is threatening the existence of an endangered New Zealand species, a study led by AgResearch has shown.

Carried out with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and University of Otago, the study has illustrated the struggle for the ongoing survival of the Cromwell chafer beetle – a nationally endangered native species that can now be found only in the 81 hectare Cromwell Chafer Beetle Nature Reserve between Cromwell and Bannockburn, in Central Otago.

The study found numerous rabbit holes that provided shelter for the rabbits were also proving ideal spaces for the redback spiders to establish their webs. Investigation of those webs in the rabbit holes found the Cromwell chafer beetle was the second-most commonly found prey of the spiders.

These findings “give a fascinating insight into the almost accidental relationships that can develop between species in the natural world, and how that can impact on other species,” says AgResearch Principal Scientist Dr Barbara Barratt.

As a result of the research, DOC has carried out a programme to break down old rabbit holes and hummocks in the reserve to destroy spider nests, and does regular rabbit control. An annual survey for beetle larvae with AgResearch will show whether these actions are having an effect.

Beetle larvae will be surveyed next summer to see what effect reducing redback spider nests is having on the Cromwell chafer beetle.

The Cromwell chafer beetle (Prodontria lewisi) is a large flightless beetle that lives underground in the sandy soils of the Cromwell river terrace. In spring and summer adult beetles emerge from the ground at night to feed on plants and to breed.

New appointments to the Science Board

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith has announced three new appointments and two reappointments to the Science Board.

The new members, Dr David Wratt, Dr Jill Vintiner and Professor Aidan Byrne, have been appointed to the board for terms of three years. Dr Charlotte Severne and Professor Adam Jaffe were reappointed for further terms of three years and 18 months respectively.

The Science Board is responsible for the allocation of funding used predominantly by research organisations for science, technology, research, and related activities.

Goldsmith said the new appointments offered expertise in a range of science disciplines and the unique skills and experience each member brought would equip the board with valuable insight.

He expressed his thanks to outgoing board member Professor Janis Swan, who finished her term on 31 December 2016, for her contribution to the board.

More information on the Science Board can be found on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s website.

Study shows women aren’t failing at science — so is science therefore failing women?

Female research scientists are more productive than their male colleagues, though they are widely perceived as being less so, economist Lorena Rivera León writes in Sciblogs (see HERE). Women are also rewarded less for their scientific achievements.

These are findings from her team’s recent study for United Nations University – Merit on gender inequality in scientific research in Mexico, published as a working paper in December 2016.

The study, part of the project “Science, Technology and Innovation Gender Gaps and their Economic Costs in Latin America and the Caribbean”, was financed by the Gender and Diversity Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Lorena Rivera León writes –

The study, which looked at women’s status in 42 public universities and 18 public research centres, some managed by Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), focused on a question that has been widely investigated: why are women in science less productive than men, in almost all academic disciplines and regardless of the productivity measure used?

The existence of this “productivity puzzle” is well documented, from South Africa to Italy, but few studies have sought to identify its possible causes.

Our findings demonstrate that, in Mexico at least, the premise of the productivity puzzle is false, when we control for factors such as promotion to senior academic ranks and selectivity.

The team used an econometric modelling approach, including several macro simulations to understand the economic costs of gender gaps to the Mexican academic system, and focused on researchers within Mexico’s National System of Researchers.

They found that women produce higher-quality research than men, often publishing in more prestigious scholarly journals with longer-term impacts in the field.

Furthermore, despite the common belief that maternity leaves make women less productive in key periods of their careers, female researchers had only between 5% to 6% more non-productive years than males. At senior levels, the difference dropped to 1%.

Nonetheless, in the universities and research centres we studied, Mexican women face considerable barriers to success. At public research centres, women are 35% less likely to be promoted, and 89% of senior ranks were filled by men in 2013, though women comprised 24% of research staff and 33% at non-senior levels. Public universities do slightly better (but not well): female researchers there are 22% less likely to be promoted than men.

Overall, 89% of all female academics in our sample never reached senior levels in the period studied (2002 to 2013).

Mexico is not alone. The team’s research in France and South Africa, using the same econometric model, found gender inequalities there also prevent women scientists from being promoted to higher academic ranks.

Examining French physicists working in the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and in French public universities, we learned that female physicists in CNRS are as productive as their male colleagues or more so. Yet they are 6.3% less likely to be promoted within CNRS and 16.3% within universities. This is notable in a country that ranks 17th in the world in gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum.

In South Africa, race plays an important role in explaining gender inequalities in science. Examining the career paths of researchers from 2002 to 2011, we observed that there are not large differences in the promotion patterns of white researchers by gender: 60.1% of white men were not promoted (even in cases where they applied for promotion), compared to 60.6% of women in the same period. But the gap widens dramatically when you account for ethnicity: 70.4% of non-white men and 69.2% of non-white women are not promoted.

In Uruguay the same IDB gender gaps project similarly identified a glass ceiling. Women there were underrepresented in the highest academic ranks and had a 7.1% less probability than men of being promoted to senior levels.

Moreover, from Mexico and Uruguay to France and South Africa, a vicious cycle between promotion and productivity is at play: difficulties in getting promoted reduce the prestige, influence and resources available to women. In turn, those factors can lead to lower productivity, which decreases their chances of promotion.

This two-way causality creates a source of endogeneity biases when including seniority as a variable to explain productivity in an econometric model. Only when we control for this, as well as for a selectivity bias (that is, publishing occurrence), do we find that female researchers are more productive than their male counterparts. Without these corrections, a gender productivity gap of 10% to 21% appears in favour of men.

The view that women are failing at science is commonly held, but evidence shows that, across the world, it’s science that’s failing women. Action must be taken to ensure that female researchers are treated fairly, recognised for their work, and promoted when they’ve earned it.

  • Lorena Rivera León is a Belgian-Mexican economist and PhD research fellow at UNU-MERIT. This article was originally published on The Conversation and can be read HERE.