May 19, 2017
Professor Alison Heather, who heads up the ‘Heather Lab’ in the Department of Physiology at the University of Otago, discussed how cheating is now almost expected in sports. Athletes try to win by using performance enhancing drugs and then cheating on drug tests. Rules are no longer guidelines for the game but rather barriers to overcome. Cheating has become a game within the games.
Sports doping goes back to Roman times, when a concoction of bull testicles and mushrooms was the drug of choice. The Greeks even fed their honey alcohol to their gladiatorial horses as well. Drug testing began at the Olympics in 1968, but tests did not become sensitive until 15 years later with mass spectrometry of urine samples. As a result, 21 medals (11 gold) were stripped at the Pan American games and 31% of athletes chose not to show up once they found out that the drug tests would be held.
March 28, 2017
How to humanise the refugee crisis that has seen a record 65.3 million people displaced? World Vision CEO Chris Clarke did so by portraying the tale of 12 year old Syrian refugee Adel, who he met in a makeshift Lebanon refugee camp with his widowed mother and five younger sisters.
At 12, he was digging potatoes for 12 hours a day to pay back the farmer for the pocket handkerchief of land they had built their leaking plywood and plastic shelter on. When they met, he had 75 more days to clear the debt. His sisters were suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. Nightmares of gun toting soldiers they had seen back home had one sister often run from their paltry shelter in the middle of the night, screaming and terrified. It was Adel who had to chase after her, bring her back, comfort her till she could sleep again.
February 21, 2017
Did you know the little spotted Kiwi was nearly lost when just 5 individuals remained? A conservation program saw its numbers grow. But a bigger population is not enough. Dr Helen Taylor, research fellow in conservation genetics at the University of Otago, is tackling what happens when a population crashes and inbreeding – a threat to even thriving populations – affects the survival and reproduction of subsequent generations.
Dr Taylor discussed how conservation is often considered to be a numbers game – if we increase the size of a threatened species’ population, we think this a conservation success. Unfortunately, population growth is not always the full story; factors such as genetics have a big part to play in whether or not a species will survive.