Common weedkiller could make cane toads deadlier

Cane toads could become even more deadly because of their exposure to a common weedkiller.

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Scientists in Hungary have found that when toad tadpoles come into contact with the widely used weedkiller Glyphogan, their bodies produce more of the toxic chemicals they use to ward off predators.

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The scientists say their findings, published by ‘The Royal Society’ on Wednesday, are particularly relevant to Australia’s cane toad population which they fear could become even more toxic given they live in a wide variety of habitats that are exposed to pollutants and pesticides.

“Our results indicate that pesticide pollution might exacerbate the problem of invasive toxic species,” study author Veronika Bokony, of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences said.

“For example, in Australia, the survival of native tadpoles is reduced by poisoning from ingestion of toxic cane toad eggs, and predators suffer drastic mortality due to ingesting or mouthing cane toads.”

The scientists tested the effects of the glyphosate-based weedkiller Glyphogan on large batches of common tadpoles in a laboratory and a pond at an experiment station near Budapest.

All the tadpoles produced significantly more amounts of bufadienolides – the toxic steroids used by toads, fireflies, some snakes and plants to poison or deter predators – after being exposed to Glyphogan for between nine days and three weeks.

The scientists said that if toads become more toxic, their predators may switch to other more palatable prey, posing an even greater threat to other animals.

Cane toads store toxins containing bufadienolides in glands on their shoulders, using them to deliver a poisonous blast that can cause heart convulsions or death for predators.

The cane toads have had a huge impact on native animals since arriving from Hawaii in 1935 and spreading across most of northern Australia.

Northern quoll populations were devastated by the toad, whose poison also has been known to kill freshwater crocodiles, snakes and goannas.

Cane toad expert professor Rick Shine, of the University of Sydney, says the new research adds to a growing body of evidence showing how toads develop their defensive chemical “weapons” in reaction to their experiences.

But he says while weedkiller can increase the amount of poison in a toad, it might not necessarily mean the cane toad will have an even greater ecological impact in Australia.

“Most native predators in areas where cane toads live have already learned that toads are deadly, and don’t eat them – or can tolerate the poison, and thus are not at risk no matter how much the toad ramps up its poison content,” he said.

The Hungarian scientists have called for more studies to be done on how environmental contaminants like weedkillers affect the chemical defences in bufadienolides.

Arab nations: we have Qatar’s response

Four Arab nations say they have received Qatar’s response to their demands for ending a diplomatic crisis gripping the Persian Gulf, just before a planned meeting in Cairo.

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Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday they would respond “in a timely manner”.

The countries did not elaborate on what steps they could take, though credit rating agency Moody’s warned it had changed Qatar’s economic outlook to negative over the turmoil.

The countries cut ties to the FIFA 2022 World Cup host in early June over its alleged support for extremist groups and ties with Iran.

Qatar denies supporting extremists and has defended its warm relations with Iran.

The nations issued a 13-point list of demands on June 22, giving Qatar 10 days to comply.

They later extended the deadline to Wednesday at the request of Kuwait, which has acted as a mediator.

Foreign ministers from the four Arab countries will meet in Cairo later on Wednesday to discuss their next move.

Qatar has called the demands, which include shutting down its al-Jazeera satellite news network, expelling Turkish military forces based in the country and paying restitution, as an affront to its sovereignty.

Earlier, in a move that could affect Australia, Qatar announced plans for a steep rise in liquefied natural gas (LNG) production, suggesting it is ready for a protracted dispute with its Gulf neighbours.

State-owned Qatar Petroleum announced plans to raise LNG capacity by 30 per cent.

The immediate effect of the increase will be to worsen a glut on the LNG market, where Australia, the US and Russia vie.

Reddit user sorry for Trump-CNN clip

A Reddit user has apologised for a doctored video in which US President Donald Trump assaults a man whose head is replaced with the CNN logo, saying the video is “a prank, nothing more”.

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“The meme was created purely as satire. It was not meant to be a call to violence against CNN or any other news affiliation,” user HanAssholeSolo said on Tuesday in a 700-word post on the US-based discussion website.

The user claimed credit for making an initial version of the video.

“I had no idea anyone would take it and put sound to it and then have it put up on the President’s Twitter feed,” the user said.

The user also apologised other for other posts “that were racist, bigoted, and anti-Semitic”.

A post shared on social media believed to be from the same user showed a collection of CNN personality photos, each highlighted with the Star of David, with the words: “Something strange about CNN … can’t quite put my finger on it.”

“I am in no way this kind of person. I love and accept people of all walks of life and have done so for my entire life,” the user wrote in the apology note, saying the actions were “trolling … to get a reaction”.

The user asked others who trolled to “consider your words and actions” and said he or she would no longer post “hurtful or hateful things in jest online”.

Trump’s retweeted the video on Sunday with the hashtags “#FraudNewsCNN” and “#FNN”.

The president has branded the media as “the enemy of the American people”, taking particular aim at CNN.

CNN accused Trump of engaging in “juvenile behaviour far below the dignity of his office”.

Hospitals pull back on antibiotic use

Antibiotic use in Australian hospitals has taken a dip, with medical experts saying the move will help in the fight against superbugs.

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The amount of antibiotics given to hospital patients to treat infections or reduce the risk of them developing fell by more than seven per cent between 2011 and 2015, a report released by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care shows.

The report by the National Antimicrobial Utilisation Surveillance Program found that 916.4 daily doses of antibiotics were given to patients for every 1,000 occupied bed days in hospital in 2015 – a two per cent drop on the previous year and 7.6 per cent lower than in 2011.

The commission’s senior medical advisor Professor John Turnidge said the report indicates hospitals have taken steps to ensure that more patients receive the most appropriate antibiotic treatment.

“Appropriate use of antibiotics will help considerably in slowing the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

Australians are among the biggest users of antibiotics in the world despite experts here and around the globe warning that excessive or unnecessary use helps more bacteria become resistant to the drugs.

The report found Australia has a higher use of antibiotics in hospitals than Sweden and the Netherlands.

Twenty antibacterials, including amoxicillin and azithromycin, accounted for 93 per cent of antibiotics used in Australian hospitals in 2015.

The use of “highly reserved” antibacterials considered to be the last line of defence when treating bacterial infections was found to be low.

The World Health Organisation has called the rise of antibiotic resistance a global crisis.

Many common infections including pneumonia have become harder to treat because the over-use of antibiotics has made them ineffective at fighting certain types of bacteria.

Last month, an emergency summit of 300 infectious diseases experts called for a national body to be set up in Australia to co-ordinate the fight against the spread of superbugs, which they described as a major patient safety issue.

They want a central authority to co-ordinate areas such as infection control, surveillance and the use of antibiotics.

‘We need to talk about sex’: Robot experts on the growing market for ‘sex tech’

Move over blow-up dolls, the sex robots are here.

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Artificial intelligence is making its way into the global sex market, bringing with it a revolution in robotic “sex tech” designed to offer sexual gratification with a near-human touch.

In a report on the growing market in sex robots, the Foundation for Responsible Robotics says rapidly advancing technologies have already led to the creation of “android love dolls” capable of performing 50 automated sexual positions.

They can be customised down to their shape and hair colour and can cost between $US5000 and $US15,000 ($A6566 to $A19,698).

The increasingly lifelike robots raise complex issues that should be considered by policymakers and the public, the report says, including whether use of such devices should be encouraged in sexual therapy clinics, for sex offenders or for people with disabilities.

Noel Sharkey, a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield in Britain, says it is difficult to predict how far or fast the market will grow or what its effect on societies might be.

“Will these robotic dolls be niche? Or will they change societal norms and become widespread?,” he asked at a news briefing on Tuesday.

“How would (sex with a robot) equate to a truly human intimate relationship?”

The report looks at some of the most contentious issues, asking academics, members of the public and the sex industry for their views on whether, for example, sex robots might be helpful in reducing sexual crimes.

It found “major disagreement” on this question, with some arguing that having sex with a robot would reduce attackers’ desires to harm fellow humans, and others arguing that allowing people to live out their darkest fantasies with robots would have a pernicious effect on societal norms.

On the issue of “meaningful” relationships, the report says that with current AI technology, and even in the foreseeable future, no human-to-robot feelings will ever be mutual.

“The best robots could do is fake it,” it said.

“Robots cannot feel love.”

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