This Way Up 25 June 2016 Part 1

A 'fat gene', electric blankets, TV tech and how itching boosts viruses.

A fat gene?

Giles Yeo

Giles Yeo Photo: Supplied

Could knowing that you are more likely to be obese, genetically speaking, make you eat less?

Giles Yeo is a neuroscientist and geneticist based at Cambridge University, he studies the brain and how it controls weight. In the UK 62% of adults are either overweight or obese and here in New Zealand 68%  of us are too heavy.

Giles also works as a TV presenter, and in his latest BBC Horizon documentary, called 'Why Are We Getting So Fat?', he travels around the UK meeting obese people and looking at the latest obesity-related science, from faecal transplants to hormone injections.

The main focus of his work for the past 8 years has been on a gene called FTO, dubbed the 'fat gene'.

Electric blankets: a buyer's guide

This Way Up looks at the best home heating options with George Block of This week, electric blankets – from top-end offerings to the bargain bin.

Old school electric blanket

Old school electric blanket Photo: (Flickr user Jason Alley CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

TV tech

The technological advances that are spurring the next generation of TVs. Peter Griffin sorts through quantum dots, 'nits' and the latest HDR, SUHD, 4K and OLED offerings on the market.

Too many TVs

Too many TVs Photo: (Flickr user The unPixie CC BY-SA 2.0)


How itching boosts viruses

Immunity Cover

Immunity Cover Photo: (Steven Bryden)

The inflammation that makes you want to scratch a mosquito bite also dramatically boosts the infection rate for viruses like dengue fever, the Ross River virus and Zika.

Marieke Pingen and her colleagues at the University of Leeds are examining how viruses are hijacking our immune systems to replicate and cause disease. They publish their findings in the journal Immunity this week.

The research shows how a mosquito's saliva triggers an inflammatory response that attracts a range of cell types to the bite site. Incoming immune cells are particularly prone to infection, and the physical swelling of the tissue around the bite also also helps the virus gain a foot-hold and then spread.

The research suggests that blocking the inflammatory response at the bite site could lead to a new way to control mosquito-spread infection.

"We tested two very different types of virus, which work in very different ways, and got the same result. So we think that this might point to a new way to block mosquito-borne illness." Researcher Clive McKimmie

This Way Up 25 June 2016 Part 2

Science news (zika and cystic fibrosis), peak perfomance, symbolic sounds and revealing hidden manuscripts.

Science: Zika and cystic fibrosis

Dr Chris Smith with science news and this week a 'mini gut' created in the lab could help doctors find the best drugs to treat people with cystic fibrosis. Also a so far untold story about the Zika virus; fears it might be fuelling a dramatic rise in illegal abortions in Latin America.

Peak performance

Anders Ericsson, the author of Peak

Anders Ericsson, the author of Peak Photo: Supplied

The '10,000 hour rule' – the idea that you can master any skill if you practice for the magic number of 10,000 hours  – is widely quoted and accepted in modern society. Malcolm Gladwell popularised the idea in 2008 when he released his book Outliers, claiming "10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness". You can see the appeal too, – anyone can do anything a lot and then be an expert!  Success is in anyone's grasp if you're prepared to work hard enough.

But it's an idea that has been oversimplified and even misinterpreted from the original research – a 1993 paper by Anders Ericsson and his colleagues.

In his new book Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise Professor Ericsson sets the record straight.

Peak cover

"The world's reigning expert on expertise" tells This Way Up's Simon Morton about the current state of our knowledge about skills and abilities and how we can acquire them.

Symbolic sounds

From Nads Hair Removal Gel , to Wack Off! insect repellent, there's the tasty SARS canned drink and Ikea's Fartfull work bench; consumer history is littered with a litany of product names that have been lost in translation.

Now there's something else for people naming new products to worry about; the distance of sound.

Husband and wife Sam Maglio and Cristina Rabaglia of the University of Toronto research sound symbolism, the intuitive understanding of the meaning of specific sounds.

Husband-and-wife research team Cristina Rabaglia and Sam Maglio examine whether we judge distances based on word sounds.

Husband-and-wife research team Cristina Rabaglia and Sam Maglio examine whether we judge distances based on word sounds. Photo: (University of Toronto Scarborough)

Their work has shown that people associate some sounds with closeness, and others with distance. So people automatically associate front vowel sounds (produced with the tongue forward in the mouth, such as the 'ee' sound in 'feet') with things that are close by. On the other hand they relate back vowel sounds (produced with the tongue far back in the mouth i.e. the 'oo' in 'food') to things that are farther away.

"Our feelings and intuitions about sounds influence what we feel is okay for names of specific items or brands," Cris Rabaglia says. "If you name something in a way that isn't intuitive, it could decrease the likelihood that people will want to interact with that product."

Hidden manuscripts


Bindings Photo: (Flickr user Burns Library Boston CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Imaging technology is helping to reveal art and medieval manuscripts that have been hidden for hundreds of years.

The work's currently being done on handwritten paper and parchments that date back over 1,000 years, when it was common to paint over canvasses and reuse paper as a covering or spine reinforcement.

Access to these hidden libraries and pictures has been made possible by x-ray fluorescence spectrometry technology which allows texts to be read without being damaged.

Professor Joris Dik of Delft University of Technology started using the technology 8 years ago on some paintings by Vincent van Gogh.