Newsletter Digest: Cloning, oil spills and the Nutty Professor

Sacked drug adviser tours NZ

Professor David Nutt grabbed headlines in the UK last year when the chair of the British Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was sacked for his controversial views on recreational drugs and how they are classified.

Professor Nutt, who has gone on to form the Independent Council on Drug Harm was in New Zealand this week visiting the University of Otago and presenting lectures outlining what he considers to be a mismatch between UK lawmakers’ classification of recreational drugs, in particular cannabis, and scientific measures of their harmfulness.

In a ranking of drugs by physical harm Professor Nutt and colleagues published in The Lancet in 2007, alcohol was ranked as more harmful that cannabis, LSD and amphetamines.

Professor Nutt arrived in the country as the Government revealed its decision to hold the blood alcohol limit for drivers at the current limit of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. A proposal backed by scientists to move to a 50mg limit was rejected by the Government, which is calling for further research on the issue.

“We should have a public outcry to the costs of passive drinking – the accidents, costs of hospital admissions for drinkers that come onto our shoulders,” Nutt told 3 News.

PODCAST: Professor Nutt’s Wellington lecture is available on the Science Media Centre website.

INFOGRAPHIC: An SMC infographic outlining the implications of a reduction in the blood alcohol limit for how much people can drink is available here as well as audio from an SMC briefing on the subject where the science behind blood alcohol measurements was discussed.

Swine flu back with a vengeance

Hospitals and schools are feeling the strain this week as cases of H1N1 swine flu mount, representing the anticipated second wave of the pandemic.

According to TV3: “Health Ministry data showed increasing numbers of people coming down with flu symptoms, particularly in the northern half of the North Island, indicating a second wave of pandemic H1N1 “swine flu” sweeping the country in little more than a year.”

The World Health Organisation’s latest global update on the pandemic says that worldwide pandemic and seasonal flu activity remains low:

“In the southern hemisphere (where the winter season is in progress), current influenza activity remains variable: ranging from low and stable activity in Chile and Argentina, to low but increasing activity in Australia and New Zealand, to elevated and recently peaked activity in South Africa. Significant seasonal and pandemic influenza virus transmission continues to be detected at variable levels across parts of the tropics, particularly in several countries of the Americas and South and Southeast Asia.”

Census of Marine Life has NZ lead

Details of the most comprehensive study of species distribution and diversity in key global ocean areas was published this week in the form of the Census of Marine Life.

The marine researchers involved combined centuries-old historical records with data obtained during the decade-long Census, creating a “roll call” of species in 25 regions – from the Antarctic through temperate and tropical seas to the Arctic. Local scientists looked in particular at marine life within New Zealand exclusive economic zone, an area that has relatively high biodiversity compared to other areas studied.

PODCAST: The University of Auckland’s Dr Mark Costello was a lead author of the research and along with NIWA’s Dr Alison MacDiarmid presented the local and international findings at an SMC briefing for the media. Their slides are also available for viewing.