South Korean TV ‘reunites’ mother with dead daughter in virtual reality show

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This undated handout photo provided on February 14, 2020 by South Korea's Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in Seoul shows a scene of a documentary "I met you" where a mother meets her dead daughter through virtual reality. (AFP)
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This undated handout photo provided on February 14, 2020 by South Korea's Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in Seoul shows a scene of a documentary "I met you" where a mother meets her dead daughter through virtual reality. (AFP)
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This undated handout photo provided on February 14, 2020 by South Korea's Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in Seoul shows a scene of a documentary "I met you" where a mother meets her dead daughter through virtual reality. (AFP)
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This undated handout photo provided on February 14, 2020 by South Korea's Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in Seoul shows a scene of a documentary "I met you" where a mother meets her dead daughter through virtual reality. (AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2020

South Korean TV ‘reunites’ mother with dead daughter in virtual reality show

  • The footage began with the girl — who died of leukaemia in 2016 — emerging from behind a pile of wood in a park, as if playing hide-and-seek
  • “I have missed you Na-yeon,” she told the computer-generated six-year-old, her hands moving to stroke her hair

SEOUL: A tearful reunion between a mother and her dead daughter via advanced virtual reality for a South Korean television has become an online hit, triggering fierce debate about voyeurism and exploitation.
The footage began with the girl — who died of leukaemia in 2016 — emerging from behind a pile of wood in a park, as if playing hide-and-seek.
“Mum, where have you been?” she asks. “I’ve missed you a lot. Have you missed me?“
Tears streaming down her face, Jang Ji-sung reached out toward her, wracked with emotion.
“I have missed you Na-yeon,” she told the computer-generated six-year-old, her hands moving to stroke her hair.
But in the real world, Jang was standing in front of a studio green screen, wearing a virtual reality headset and touch-sensitive gloves, her daughter’s ashes in a locket around her neck.
At times the camera cut to Jang’s watching husband and their three surviving children, wiping away tears of their own.
A nine-minute clip of the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) documentary “I met you” has been watched more than 13 million times in a week on Youtube.
Many viewers offered Jang their sympathy and support for the concept.
“My mother unexpectedly passed away two years ago and I wish I could meet her through virtual reality,” said one.
But media columnist Park Sang-hyun said the documentary amounted to exploitation of personal pain.
“It’s understandable a grief-stricken mother would wish to meet her late daughter. I would do the same,” he told AFP.
“The problem lies in that the broadcaster has taken advantage of a vulnerable mother who lost a child for sake of the viewer ratings.”
“If the mother had been counselled before the filming,” he added, “I wonder what kind of a psychiatrist would approve this.”

It took eight months of filming and programming to create the virtual Na-yeon, but the makers of the documentary insisted the broadcast was intended to “console the family” rather than promote virtual reality in ultra-wired South Korea.
The technology presented a “new way to keep loved ones in memory,” one of the producers told reporters.
Jang herself — who has her daughter’s name and date of birth tattooed on her arm in memory — hoped the program could “console” others who had lost loved ones.
“Even though it was a very brief... I was really happy in the moment,” she wrote on her blog — which she has since turned private.
During the broadcast the two sat at a table to celebrate Na-yeon’s missing birthdays, singing “happy birthday” together.
Before blowing out the candles, Na-yeon made a birthday wish: “I want my mother to stop crying.”
 


Genes that helped our Arabian ancestors to survive could now be killing us

Updated 25 March 2020

Genes that helped our Arabian ancestors to survive could now be killing us

  • Researchers find genetic traits that evolved to cope with extreme heat and scarce food are dangerous when we have plenty to eat and air conditioning
  • When combined with increasingly sedentary lifestyles, the adaptations increase risk of obesity and metabolic disorders such as diabetes

LONDON: Researchers in Kuwait have identified a section of DNA that once helped nomadic inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula survive the harsh conditions there, but now is believed to be partly responsible for high rates of diabetes and obesity across the Middle East.
The research suggests that lack of exercise and a bad diet are not the only reasons for the prevalence of metabolic disorders in the region — genetic factors also play a part.
The study, by the Dasman Diabetes Institute (DDI) in Kuwait, examined more than 600,000 genetic variations in the DNA of hundreds of Kuwaitis. The scientists found multiple areas of DNA associated with health problems, such as hypertension and diabetes, that had evolved over generations.
The findings, recently published in the Genome Biology and Evolution journal, lead the researchers to believe that a genetic adaption that helped the Kuwaitis’ ancestors survive as hunter gatherers in the extreme desert environment is now partly responsible for a health crisis in modern populations.
“The theory was that there must be something very different in the genetic makeup that protected (the ancestors) from the weather, a lack of food and made their metabolism extremely low,” said Prof. Fahd Al-Mulla, DDI’s chief scientific officer and senior author of the study.

Dasman Diabetes Institute (DDI) is a Kuwaiti-based medical research center which works to prevent and treat diabetes and related conditions in Kuwait through various research, training, education and health promotion programs. (Supplied)

“This is fine if you live in hot weather and if you do not have a lot of food but this gene becomes a killer if you have plenty of food to eat, you sit in the air conditioning, and you change your environment.”
The genetic variations highlighted by the study were found in and around the TNKS gene, which is associated with hypertension, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Kuwait has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world; about 40 percent of the population is overweight. Other Gulf countries are not far behind, and their populations are plagued by rising levels of associated disorders, including diabetes and hypertension.
While modern sedentary lifestyles are often blamed for this, and clearly are a factor, the study uncovers the detrimental effects of ancestral genetic adaptation on the health of present-day Kuwaitis.
“Our research spots the regions of the genome that might have induced active metabolism and hypertension in nomadic Kuwaiti forefathers, which may favor survival in harsh environments,” said Dr. Eaaswar Muthukrishna, a genetics and bioinformatics expert at DDI.
He added that the study was the first “comprehensive analysis to detect natural selection in the Arabian Peninsula’s population.”
Al-Mulla said the discovery was important not only for raising awareness of the health risks, but also to help identify vulnerable children and advise their parents on how to ensure they do not overeat and increase the chances of developing metabolic disorders.
Along with sounding a health alert for modern populations, the research also sheds light on migration and environmental changes in the region.

“The Arabian Peninsula has experienced several waves of migrations, despite its extreme and varying environmental conditions,” the authors of the study note. “And these inhabitants eventually adapted to the hot and dry environment.
“Archaeological evidence suggests the Arabian Peninsula played a key role during the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa….therefore, the resident populations have a long and complex evolutionary history.”
Most of the ancestors of modern-day Kuwaitis were early settlers that migrated from Saudi Arabia and depended on fishing, pearl diving and seafaring as their main sources of income.
“Our previous studies revealed that the genetic structure of the Kuwait population is heterogeneous (diverse), comprising three distinct ancestral genetic backgrounds that could be linked roughly to contemporary Saudi Arabian, Persian and Bedouin populations,” according to the study.
Muthukrishna said the team is expanding its study to examine Arabian populations in Oman, Yemen, and the UAE.
“We are analyzing those data sets to see what is the pattern that exists in the Arabian Peninsula,” he said, adding that the study, which is underway, will also dig deeper into the Saudi population.