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A round-up of the latest science and news from Australasia.

Video Violence Lowers Self-Esteem

By Stephen Luntz

People see themselves as less humane after playing the violent games.

Participation in violent video games makes people rate themselves lower on measures of humanity than playing non-violent games like online tennis, a paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports.

Party Drug Lights Up Rodent Brains

By Stephen Luntz

The effects on rats of mephedrone, better known as the party drug meow meow, indicate that for once the hype about a drug’s addictive effects might be accurate.

University of Sydney PhD student Craig Motbey used protein tracking to determine the parts of the rat brain activated by mephedrone. “When you look at the pattern of neurons activated by the mephedrone, it is as if the effect of ecstasy and the effect of methamphetamine on the brain’s neurons had been laid on top of each other,” he says.

“The findings confirm the anecdotal reports from mephedrone users that the drug combines the euphoric, sociable effects of ecstasy with an addictive hook comparable to drugs such as that

Malaria Rates Defy Global Warming Fears

By Stephen Luntz

Malaria rates are falling even though warming trends are more extending the range of mosquitoes.

Malaria rates in East Africa are dropping even though climate change is making conditions more suitable for mosquitoes, according to a study published in PLoS One.

Prof David Stern of the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Economics and Government says that malaria rates rose in the area during the 1990s but have fallen since. “In research we published in 2002 in Nature we could not find a statistically significant trend in temperatures in the region, sparking heated debate about what caused the increase in malaria in the area at the time,” Stern says.

Coffee Craving Is in the Genes

By Stephen Luntz

A large part of the coffee enthusiasts’ passion lies in an abundance of caffeine-craving genes.

Scientists at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research have estimated that 40% of coffee consumption is genetically determined. They’ve also made progress in discovering genes whose expression is affected by caffeine. It is hoped this will lead to an understanding of how caffeine protects against Parkinson’s disease.

Lab Accident Cuts the Cost of Addiction Drugs

By Stephen Luntz

A laboratory accident has shown the way to cheaper production of opiates used to treat heroin and alcohol addiction.

In an event that echoes Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, a laboratory accident has shown the way to cheaper production of opiates used to treat heroin and alcohol addiction.

“It was quite a fortuitous discovery,” says Prof Peter Scammells of the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences. “One night, quite by accident, a member of our group left a stainless steel spatula in her reaction. In the morning we found a high amount of the desired product in the flask. Since then we have been raiding the Institute’s stationery cupboard for cheap stainless steel paper clips!”

Culling Won’t Save Devil

By Stephen Luntz

The decision to abandon a trial to cull diseased Tasmanian devils has been endorsed mathematically.

While the Forestier Peninsula is largely isolated from the rest of Tasmania, devil facial tumour disease has spread there. From 2004–10 the Peninsula was used as a test case investigating the viability of trapping devils and euthanising those with the disease.

However, the trial was abandoned and now Mr Nick Beeton of the University of Tasmania and Prof Hamish McCallum of Griffith University have confirmed that culling was never likely to work.

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By Stephen Luntz

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Autism Linked to Pink Disease

By Stephen Luntz

Children with a family history of pink disease have a higher risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, researchers at Swinburne University of Technology have claimed, but their evidence has been swiftly challenged.

Pink disease results from mercury exposure, possibly in combination with a genetic hypersensitivity. In the first half of the 20th century mercury was used in teething powders and one in 500 exposed children developed the condition, with symptoms including itchiness, muscle weakness and sensitivity to light. Substantial numbers of sufferers died from secondary bronchial infections.