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

Milky Way Measures up to Andromeda

It had been long been thought that Andromeda was two to three times the size of the Milky Way, and that our own galaxy would ultimately be engulfed by our bigger neighbour, but new research published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society has found that Andromeda is 800 billion times heavier than the Sun, which is on par with the Milky Way.

Astrophysicist Dr Prajwal Kafle of The University of Western Australia node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research said the study used a new technique to measure the speed required to escape a galaxy.

Inconsistent Reaction Time Predicts Mortality

Inconsistent performance in responding to a stimulus, rather than the speed with which one responds, is a marker of accelerated ageing and predicts mortality in older people, according to research published in PLoS ONE.

Scientists at the UNSW Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing measured the intraindividual variability of reaction times in older adults, and found that it predicted survival time after accounting for any signs of decline in cognitive functioning that may herald dementia.

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 (www.tinyurl.com/zmfu9ov), 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.