TV science news roundup for March 26th 2014

By Michelle Dickinson 25/03/2014

In my science news roundup for breakfast news show Firstline this morning, I decided to summarise three very different stories which you can view by clicking on the video link below:


The first involved a PNAS paper published on March 24th 2014 entitled “Extended lifespan and reduced adiposity in mice lacking the FAT10 gene” in which researchers found that turning off the gene FAT10 produces a variety of beneficial effects in mice.

When compared to control mice, FAT10 gene deficient mice had a series of benefits including:

  • a reduction in body fat even though the mice ate more
  • an increase in skeletal muscle
  • production of an immune molecule which reduced circulating insulin levels protecting against type 2 diabetes
  • 20 percent longer lifespan

So basically these mice look great, live longer, eat more and apparently have more luxurious fur – there must be a drawback!

Although the researchers didn’t find any drawbacks in their study, they did comment that the mice were brought up in ideal lab conditions which does not represent that of real life.  As fighting infection requires energy there is a fear that mice without the FAT10 gene might be too lean to fight infection effectively whereas standard mice would use their fat stores for energy if they were ill.

But these are mice, I hear you say – what does that have to do with humans?

The DNA and protein sequences of the FAT10 gene are highly conserved between man and mouse meaning that it is likely that it has the same functions for both and thus human studies would likely have a similar outcome.

The researchers are excited that blocking how FAT10 coordinates immunity and metabolism could lead to new therapies for metabolic disease, cancer and healthy aging.


Story two involved the news that a new type of contact lens could be developed that act like night vision goggles by detecting infrared light.
Although no contact lenses have been made yet, the technology described in the paper “Graphene photodetectors with ultra-broadband and high responsivity at room temperature” published in Nature Materials on March 16th 2014 describes a new method for generating the electrical signal required to convert the low energy infrared light into a strong electrical signal. Instead of using the traditional method of measuring the electrons that are released when light strikes the material, this new device amplifies an electrical current generated by the incoming light.

The device consists of two single layers of graphene with an insulating dielectric material in the middle.  The top layer of graphene acts as the primary photodetector and when light strikes it the electrons are able to perform a quantum tunneling effect where the hot carrier tunnels through the dielectric middle to the graphene on other side.  This creates a charge build up which results in a strong change in conductance.

The end result is an amplified signal from a small number of absorbed photons that hit the top layer are turned into a large change in conductance of the the bottom layer.

Due to the small size and transparent nature of this new device it lends itself easily to a contact lens coating, or could easily be applied to the camera on a smart phone to allow easy portable IR vision.


Finally e-cigarettes are an unregulated device in which an electronic cigarette vaporises liquid nicotine by passing it through a battery powered heating element.

A new scientific study is putting pressure on the e-cigarette manufactures to remove advertising suggesting that e-cigarettes are an effective way to quit smoking as their scientific evidence showed that they didn’t help.

The study entitled “A Longitudinal Analysis of Electronic Cigarette Use and Smoking Cessation” published on March 24th 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine followed 949 people and found that there was no difference in the rate of quitting between smokers who used an e-cigarette and those who did not.

The study looked at the 88 people in the study who used e-cigarettes and found that they were no more likely to have quit or reduced their smoking after a year than other smokers.