Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


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

Immune Response Triggers Side-Effects to Common Drugs

Australian researchers are a step closer to understanding immune sensitivities that cause side-effects from commonly prescribed medications.

Their study, published in Nature Immunology, investigated which drugs might activate a specialised type of T cell that detects infection. They found that some drugs prevented these MAIT cells from detecting infections while other drugs activated the immune system, which may be undesirable.

Anti-Paleo Diet Boosts Life-Extending Hormone

New research from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre suggests that a low protein, high carbohydrate diet may be the most effective for stimulating a hormone with life-extending and obesity-fighting benefits.

The findings, published in Cell Metabolism, paint a clearer picture of the role of the little-known “fountain of youth” hormone fibroblast growth factor-21 (FGF21), which is produced primarily in the liver.

Tassie Devils Are Evolving Resistance to Facial Tumours

Tasmanian devils are evolving genetic resistance to the deadly facial tumour disease, with researchers reporting that two regions in their genomes are changing in response to the transmissible cancer that has wiped out an estimated 80% of the population in only 20 years.

Fatty diets lead to daytime sleepiness, poor sleep

University of Adelaide researchers have found that men who consume diets high in fat are more likely to feel sleepy during the day, to report sleep problems at night, and are also more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea.

This is the result of the Men Androgen Inflammation Lifestyle Environment and Stress (MAILES) study looking at the association between fatty diets and sleep, conducted by the University of Adelaide's Population Research and Outcome Studies unit in the School of Medicine and the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men's Health.

Promiscuity May Help Corals Survive Bleaching

Researchers have shown for the first time that some corals surviving bleaching events can acquire and host new types of algae from their environment, which may make the coral more heat-tolerant and enhance their recovery.

Food Allergy Linked to Hyperactive Immune System at Birth

Babies with hyperactive immune cells at birth, detected in their cord blood, are more likely to develop food allergies in their first year of life. The finding, published in Science Translational Medicine (, could lead to future treatments that prevent childhood food allergies.

Schizophrenia’s Slow Cells

Analysis of almost 1000 proteins in the stem cells of schizophrenia patients has indicated that their cellular machinery for making new proteins is reduced, with the rate of protein synthesis greatly impaired.

“Proteins are the workhorses of all cells and make up most of a cell’s structure and functions,” says Em/Prof Alan Mackay-Sim of Griffith University. “Cells live in a very dynamic environment and protein synthesis, which is so important for brain development, function and learning, is impacted by environmental and genetic factors.

Quantum Tunnelling in an Instant

The discovery that quantum tunnelling is an instantaneous process could lead to faster and smaller electronic components and a better understanding of electron microscopy, nuclear fusion and DNA mutations.

“We have modelled the most delicate processes of nature very accurately,” says Prof Anatoli Kheifets of The Australian National University. “Time scales this short have never been explored before.”

Particles such as electrons have wave-like properties, and their exact position is not well defined. This means they can occasionally “tunnel” through apparently impenetrable barriers.

Tonsil and Adenoid Removal Resolves Sleep Apnoea Issues in Children

Children experiencing sleep difficulties continue to suffer health problems even during periods of so-called “normal” sleep, but new research has found that surgical removal of adenoids and tonsils reverses these problems and may lead to improvements in brain development and behaviour.

Supernovae Dust on Ocean Floor

Scientists examining heavy metals on the ocean floor have made a surprising discovery that could change the way we understand supernovae.

“Small amounts of debris from these distant explosions fall on the Earth as it travels through the galaxy,” explained Dr Anton Wallner of The Australian National University. “We’ve analysed galactic dust from the last 25 million years that has settled on the ocean and found there is much less of the heavy elements such as plutonium and uranium than we expected.”